Tennis

Fed outclasses Rafa, Novak with $1m snub

ROGER Federer turned down an invitation to play in a planned exhibition match in Saudi Arabia in December which his rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have committed to play in.

Saudi Arabia is under growing pressure from the international community following the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi after he entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. He was a Washington Post columnist who had written critically of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

Tennis stars Djokovic and Nadal have expressed doubt as to whether they will play an exhibition match at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on December 22, but they have not withdrawn. Both players have said the invitations were made at least one year ago and are reported to have been offered a fee of more than $ AUD1 million

Asked in Paris on Tuesday if he was also previously invited, Federer said: “They contacted me too, yeah.” The Swiss star was then asked why he turned it down.

“I didn’t want to play there at that time,” the 20-time grand slam champion said. “So, for me, it was a very quick decision.”

Amnesty International has urged Nadal and Djokovic not to play.

“Of course I’m aware of the situation. But I had a commitment since one year ago to play there. And my team is talking to them, to analyse the things. That’s it,” Nadal said when asked his position on Sunday. “It’s terrible that one journalist lost (his) life. I know something happened very bad inside there. So we are looking about how evolves the situation and I hope the things will clarify as soon as possible.”

Djokovic also made it clear that the decision to play was made a long time ago. “We have the commitment with them for over a year, actually last year when we were discussing this potential matchup,” he said. “It was my professional tennis decision to do that. Of course I know, I’m aware of what’s happening, and it’s sad, of course.”

The top-ranked Serb also stopped short of confirming his presence. “My team right now is in touch with the people in Saudi Arabia as well as Rafa’s and of course we are all talking to understand the situation better,” the 14-time grand slam champion said Sunday.

“Because right now we just don’t have obviously enough information, and we have to look into that a bit more and then we’ll make our decision soon.”

He added: “We have to get more information on what’s happening so we can make a rational decision whether it’s good to go or not.”

Both Nadal and Djokovic have faced increasing pressure to pull out of the tournament. Writing for The Guardian, Kevin Mitchell wrote: “It is as if they are waiting for the embarrassment to pass. And it is reasonable to conclude they are either oblivious to the criticism gathering around them or are ignorant of the seriousness of the circumstances. Neither is a good look for athletes who have always been aware of their wider responsibilities.”

Sports Illustrated’s Stanley Kay also urged the two stars to withdraw, writing: “While Djokovic and Nadal might prefer to cash their (surely generous) participation checks and avoid the political fray, they have an opportunity to use their platform for good. They could pull out of the exhibition, just as several companies and chief executives recently withdrew from an upcoming Saudi-hosted business conference in response to Khashoggi’s death. They could also offer their support — financial, vocal or otherwise — for basic human rights, as Amnesty International suggests.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the investigation needs to be completed swiftly and wants an extradition request for 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia to be put on trial in Istanbul. The country is also asking Saudi Arabia to help locate Khashoggi’s body, which still has not been found. Turkey alleges a hit squad from Saudi Arabia travelled to Istanbul to kill the journalist and then tried to cover it up.

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