The season closed last Sunday at the Martín Carpena Pavilion in Malaga, where Italy won the Davis Cup. But tennis doesn't stop. While the Next Generations ATP Finals, an official tournament to project the youngest masters, are being played in Milan, a controversial exhibition begins this Friday in St. Petersburg, until Sunday, where several top 50 tennis players will play, including Karen Khachanov, 15th, Adrian Mannarino, 22nd, Laslo Djere, 33rd, Dusan Lajovic, 46th, and the Spaniard Roberto Bautista, who has fallen to 57th place due to a sprained ankle that kept him out of action for three months. Rafael Nadal declined the invitation because he wants to continue the deadlines set in his next return after a year recovering from his injury.
Bautista, 35, reached number 9 in the ranking and became, for his success and exemplarity, the great protagonist of the last Davis Cup won by Spain, in 2019. He comes from playing in Valencia in the Faulcombridge Cup, a challenger tournament where he earned 9,415 euros as a finalist, after losing to Fabio Fognini without being able to take advantage of two match points. According to sources close to him, he is going to St. Petersburg "alone to play, now that he feels competitive again after the injury, to add minutes on the court".
The tournament is organized by Russia's powerful state-owned Gazprom, which has a monopoly on exporting gas through pipelines to Europe. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have been excluded from competitions organised by the International Tennis Federation, both the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup, its analogue for women, and their players play individually, without a flag, in the tournaments on the circuit. It has been left without being able to organize any tennis competitions.
As in any exhibition tournament, the participants have a fixed entrance fee, which in this case, given the organizer, is considered more than substantial. In its own way, despite the fact that the tournament lacks official status, Russia manages to circumvent the veto. The tournament will be played at the 7,000-capacity KSK Arena, where Zenit St. Petersburg plays its league matches. The line-up also features players, such as Italy's Jasmine Paolini, a recent finalist with her country in the Billie Jean King Cup, and Russia's Yulia Putintseva.
Neither the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) nor the WTA, its namesake among women, will apply any sanction to those invited to this gig, appealing to the freedom of tennis players to design their preseason. The effect it may have on the sponsors of the protagonists, who could find it uncomfortable to see their brand linked to an event of these characteristics, is different.
The war has undermined relations between some tennis players. Ukraine's Elina Svitolina consistently refuses to shake hands at the end of matches with any opponent coming from Russia or Belarus.
- Rafa Nadal
- Articles Javier Martínez