Rafa Roundup: Will Nadal and Djokovic cancel their exhibition match in Saudi Arabia?

EFE/Juan Carlos Hidalgo


The Barcelona defender, who spearheads the company behind the new format of the Davis Cup, said Wednesday that Nadal has told him he will play as long as he is not injured.

”If the No. 1 in the world is playing, that’s more than enough,” Pique said in the official presentation of Madrid as host of the Davis Cup finals for the next two years. ”Rafa is very positive about this event, especially because it is taking place in Madrid.”

While Rafael Nadal has been recuperating – and helping with the flood-relief effort – in Mallorca, Djokovic has settled back into that familiar metronomic rhythm of clinically dismantling opponents and hoovering up titles.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, men of conscience and integrity, continue to risk their good name by accepting an invitation to play in a meaningless exhibition in Saudi Arabia, a regime under critical scrutiny for the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The kidnap-and-murder story has led news bulletins around the world – alongside Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the conflict that has contributed to the famine engulfing Yemen – yet efforts this week by the Guardian to elicit a response from either player over playing in Jeddah on 22 December have proved fruitless.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, two incredibly popular athletes who don’t need to consult with teammates or colleagues in order to make a decision about their participation, are in the ideal position to pull out of the match and make a statement about how the world should view Saudi Arabia’s pattern of state-sanctioned killing. The question is if they mind being shiny baubles, dangled in front of the country to distract from a murderous regime, or not.

The world No 1 was the first player to mathematically secure his space in London with victory over Marin Cilic in the Rogers Cup quarter-finals on August 11.

“I know how important Majorca is to Rafa and I have been in touch with him to see if I can help with anything,” Federer said in a video message recorded in Shanghai where he is currently competing.

“I have seen him helping in the village where he comes from and to see that is super-inspiring. Rafa, you have our support. We are thinking of all the people in Majorca. We wish you strength in these difficult times and I hope to be back on Majorca soon.”


  1. Rafa’s Cancun, Mexico tennis center is due to open on November 1. It will have eight clay courts; five outdoor and three indoor.
    [Source: diarioMallorca]

    I think this is a very smart move. It may either expand the number of clay-court tournaments or Rafa’s center may end up with a monopoly, it being the only clay-court venue left. I have read that the few existing clay-court tournaments may transition to hard court.

    Good luck to Rafa whatever the case may be.

  2. According to ElEspañol, Rafa has started training. Team Rafa is still undecided about Paris and London. Accordingly, the decision when and where to return to competition won’t be made until the last minute. It is also possible that he won’t return until 2019.

    Get your health back Rafa. Be well.

    • Great, thanks for the update Margo. I can dream of Rafa coming back next year winning the AO to start his greatest season ever.

      • You’re welcome Mac.

        Yes, I agree that would be just sooo sweet.

        From what I understand of the article, Rafa’s participation in London weighs heavily on him. Missing Bercy would be a much easier pill to swallow should he miss it.

        BUT, as you know, there are more important factors to consider. First, his recovery takes precedence over everything and, as such, he is being “super” conservative about training and returning. We know he can return after injury without much preparation and still do well but his team may want to take extra time before he comes back.

        Then, there is l’affair MbS. Rafa’s government has voiced condemnation over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

        I am sure he is missing the courts as much as his fans are missing him but he is faced with making excruciating decisions that will an effect both on his health and his reputation as a global athlete.

  3. Yesterday, October 19, was the second anniversary of the RafaNadalAcademy by Movistar. Congratulations to Rafa and his dad on another year of their highly rated academy.

  4. MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s government said on Saturday it was “dismayed” by information from Riyadh about the death of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    “The Spanish government is dismayed by early reports from the Saudi prosecutor about the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and offers its most sincere condolences to his family,” Spain said in a statement.

    It also echoed a call from U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a thorough and transparent investigation to bring to justice those responsible for the incident, which has caused an international outcry.
    [Source: Reuters World News, October 20, 2018]

    So I was incorrect according to Reuters, not a Western outcry but an International outcry.

  5. After denial upon denial, Saudi Arabia has admitted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The new storyline is he died in a fight.

    The wanton murder of Mr. Khashoggi has galvanized western governments to seek redress for this horrific crime.

    The wanton murder of Jamal Khashoggi has upended any sense of safety upon entering an embassy.

    The wanton murder of Mr. Khashoggi is a crime against humanity. A man lost his life for speaking out against his country’s repressive regime.

    The above are only a few of the many reasons I feel Rafa should withdraw from his commitment to play. If the good people of this world stand up to tyranny, things will get better. Rafa is a good person.

    I cannot think of one good reason more important than any of the above why Rafa would play in Saudi Arabia.

  6. Yes Alex, I found both sides of your argument very interesting too. Like it or not, Rafa and Novak will remain firmly under the lens of scrutiny as their announced participation in the exhibition match in Saudi has come at a critical time. Whilst there is an awareness of many atrocities around the world, the barbaric killing of Jamal Khashoggi has been so high profile that you couldn’t miss all the publicity and be compelled to follow the story behind it. That’s the power of the media for you. Yes, tennis is played in other countries with oppressive regimes: China, Russia…., but yes there are many western countries (USA and Britain prominently amongst them) that have a hand in it through the sale of arms to such countries – a messy affair motivated by money and power.

    On this occasion social media pressure has to influence Rafa to change his mind as it’s the right thing to do. Although he would like a peaceful life away from the political spotlight, i’m afraid that by virtue of him being a top tennis player with millions of fans all over the world and a foundation in India, he should to make a moral judgement and withdraw from the exhibition match, otherwise his participation may well be seen by some as an endorsement of anti-human rights. I hope his team are guiding him well on this.

  7. They should cancel, an American Journalist had his fingers and head cut off, until this is resolved, the greatest in tennis should not be there to “entertain”.

    • I could be wrong, but I think Team Rafa is working on a diplomatic strategy to extricate themselves from the Saudi commitment. It’s the only sensible thing to do, in my opinion. Time will tell.

  8. This is a really interesting discussion.

    Reading the thoughtful comments below (and of course following the news) I am still on the fence on this one. I am not surprised that the Guardian haven’t got a response from the player teams; this must be a major headache for them right now.

    Honestly, my initial objection to the event was: why the hell are you playing in another time zone over Christmas? Have a bloody break, man!

    Because it just seems normal to me that players do exhos and promos in places where they don’t look too closely beneath the surface. Of course Rafa doesn’t want to be associated with murderous regimes – and obviously nothing Saudi’s done recently is “human persons” by his standards – but is it really so obvious that he should pull out? I’m going to make some opposing points…

    Reasons for keeping the commitment:

    – It’s already advertised and funded (rather than negotiated) – practically, it’s harder to pull out
    – There are Saudi fans who might never get to see Rafa otherwise – I would be p*ssed off if I a) had to live under an authoritarian regime and b) also didn’t get to see Rafa because of it
    – Many less-developed nations have authoritarian or corrupt governments; would we not want to spread tennis to those people, based on the sins of their government? Would we want to say “tennis is only for good, democratic, rich countries with a liberal world view”? Is Rafa doing this just for money, damn the consequences? No; I think he is doing it to be a tennis ambassador.
    – Rafa avoids overt politics and will not selectively involve himself in one geopolitical issue but not others; if he wouldn’t even comment on the Catalan crisis, then why would he comment on this? Withdrawing *is* commenting.
    – Social media has created an environment where people get fired up by a cause one day, then drop it the next – there is a constant pressure on public people to lend their support to this or that; often without them properly understanding the issues and being forced to take a side – I know this is not a social-media generated story, but withdrawal sets the precedent that media pressure controls individuals’ freedom.
    – There are very few (honestly, I can’t think of any) major tennis nations which don’t have shady human rights records: Russia, US, Australia, France, UK (and I say this as a Brit, whose country has historically one of the worst human rights records on, err, record.) And what about those minor tennis nations who hold tournaments, like Turkey? Taking it further, Roger lives in Dubai, which was built on slave labour; should he give up his apartment? Or what about all those tennis players who live in tax havens and don’t pay back into their home communities? How wide should we cast the net? It seems that the determining feature here is that Saudi have done something a) recently and b) obvious. Should Rafa not do one match because of that one issue? If we’re going to bring wider policies into consideration, then why not put a lens on all the nations which host whole tournaments, not just a one-night exho?

    Thoughts and even vigorous disagreements to my comments most welcome!

    PS sorry non-long-comment-Susie: I know this was a long comment. Mea culpa.

    • Thank you Alex for the very enlightening take on the scheduled exhibition match between Rafa and Djokovic in Saudi Arabia. Just like you and the million other fans of Rafa, I have observed and respected his non-political stance on matters outside tennis. And I shall continue to respect it no matter what his decision would be on this matter. I just want to say that what struck me most in your Comment is pointing out the many tennis fans and enthusiasts in the countries with governments or “rulers” with “bad human rights record” who may be denied of watching great tennis games just because they are there. You see, I am from the Philippines and the unfortunate circumstance hit home, just like it is hitting Saudi tennis fans this time.

    • Hi Alex! You certainly know how to lay down some points 🙂

      I think that, of all that you said, the outcry to me seems because the incident is quite recent and obvious.

      I’m sure that other countries probably do much worse, but since whatever they get up to happens outside the harsh glare of the News, they get away with it. Saudi just got unlucky and have been caught like a deer in headlights.

      Tennis fans in that country sure deserve to see their idols if possible. However I would not like Rafa to play under such conditions where he will be likely to attract criticism. That can affect him badly.

      Maybe the match could be called off, aka postponed until next year, by which time it would be business as usual, and the glare of world news would probably be on Kim Kardashian’s (why does my phone know how to autocomplete that name??) new baby or some other thing:)

      I do hope Saudi Arabia suffers severe consequences as a result of their actions (without it affecting the good people in the country). Let’s see what happens! Sigh… World politics.

  9. Please don’t go to Saudi Arabia. Their horrible human rights and likely murder of a American journalist, don’t deserve the participation of you Rafa and your high standards.

    • His name is Jamal Khashoggi and he was a Saudi Arabian journalist who was critical of the Saudi government.

      He was also a permanent U.S. resident and not a citizen. Had he been a U.S. citizen that is no guarantee he would have been safe at the embassy in Turkey.

      I hope worldwide condemnation of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder makes a pariah of the Saudis. Furthermore, people will now look at embassies as not a place of safety during peacetime.

  10. So sad but u know best & congratulations on all your fabulous work with the flood people you have helped  u truly fantastic beautiful person  carol Gold Coast Australia 🇦🇺

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  11. I wasn’t happy about them playing in Saudi Arabia anyway, given the Saudis’ involvement in this horrible war in Yemen, and the disappearance of this poor journalist makes it even worse. They need to cancel the match. Amnesty’s calling it “sportswashing” – they’re being made pawns in the Saudis’ attempt to make their state look good. It’s going to look very bad for them if they’re seen with members of the Saudi regime.

    • Another reasoned explanation for these two athletes to abstain from participating in the exhibition tournament in Saudi Arabia.

      Thanks for highlighting the political implications should either attend.

  12. I just hope Rafa is fit and his injuries are healed, he is so good that yes he can finish the year as # 1 in the World.

  13. Rafa please don’t play in Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to your return, you are being missed by all your fans, your the best 😊 xx

  14. I hope Rafa pulls out of this match. Same for Djoker. It’s sad that a thing like this could happen. I’m afraid that in a few weeks time all would be forgotten and it would be back to business as usual.

    Saudi must suffer some consequences. But for some reason they seem to get away with a lot!

  15. Rafa, you must NOT play the exhibition match in Saudi Arabia if you have any integrity. What they have done is barbaric and you must not be shown to condone this disgusting behaviour.

    • Well..he should not go to german because of Nazi..can not play at uso because of guantanamo and dont go to china in term of uyghur..All those things are barbarian 👎

  16. I do not understand any choice other than pulling out with a statement made both verbally and non verbally. Rafa ,you know what is a right choice. I hope you will not disappoint by sanctioning this in the ight of what has happening.There are other ways to accomplish what you hoped to with this match anywhere else in the world.

  17. Cancel the. Exhibitions match in Saudi for sure is not seve .🎾🎾🎾🎾🇺🇸

  18. Rafa, you’ve always been a good guy who does the right thing instinctively, now I would ask you to do so in regard to the Saudi exo match. You don’t need the money, surely, there will be other exo matches for you guys. But the Saudis need all the public shaming and sanctions we can pile onto them. Please don’t echo my stupid president by playing in front of the Saudis! I don’t see how you can.

  19. Dittto Margo! Our president has no conscience for right over money so he sets a bad example for the world. Rafa and djokavic will be good representatives for thei countries and the world. But if they decide to cancel we should also support that decision.

  20. I was not going to comment but since RNF has posted this I will voice my hope that Rafa does not play in Saudi Arabia. I wouldn’t care if it were a billion dollar purse.

    Shameful also is the USA’s continued sales of weapons to this backward “kingdom” facilitating the murder of the innocent people of Yemen.

  21. As I said it several days ago, Rafa shouldn’t play that exhibition by all means. Knowing Rafa as a sensible human being, I can’t imagine him being comfortable about doing this. I am a 74 year old fan and I recommend him not to do it.

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