Djokovic and Nadal had been criticized for not canceling the match after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will not be playing an exhibition in Saudi Arabia after all. But it's not for the reason you might think.
Djokovic told BBC that the exhibition, which was scheduled for Dec. 22, will not happen due to Nadal's recent ankle surgery. Both players had been criticized for not calling off the match in the wake of the premeditated killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist and government critic who was murdered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last month.
The Saudi government's involvement in the killing has been the subject of debate, and the government's official account of what transpired inside the consulate has changed multiple times. Khashoggi is believed to have been savagely beaten up, tortured and murdered by a group of Saudia Arabian men. His body was dismembered.
Djokovic and Nadal, currently the top two players in the ATP world rankings, were set to play at the Sports Hall in King Abdullah Sports City, a subset of Jeddah. The match was dubbed the King Salman Tennis Championship and was a product of the Sports Development Fund, a Saudi government initiative urging “an infusion of capital to build new facilities, contributions to the privatization of sports clubs, and efforts to attract and promote international sports events."
Both players tweeted their excitement shortly after the match was announced on Oct. 7, less than a week after Khashoggi was killed.
Roger Federer said he was offered an opportunity to play in the country but declined.
After fans and media called for Djokovic and Nadal to call off the match, both said they were reconsidering their commitment.
"I had a commitment since one year to play there," Nadal told reporters before the Paris Masters, according to Tennis.com. "I know something happened very bad inside [the consulate] there. And my team is taking to them, to analyze the things.
"I hope the things will clarify as soon as possible," he added.
"It’s unfortunate that we are both drawn into this right now," Djokovic said. "I’m aware of what’s happening, and it’s sad, of course. I’ve been always trying to be very professional and respectful towards people that I have commitments with. 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."
Nadal recently pulled out of the year-end ATP finals, which begins Sunday in London. Djokovic is scheduled to play.