Saudi Arabia's tennis takeover - sportswashing or progress in the country?

On the French Open finals weekend one tennis fan will be paying more attention than most to Roland Garros. 

Arij Mutabagani is the president of the Saudi Tennis Federation, a tennis mum, a fan, a player and the women charged with bringing tennis to a nation of 35 million from scratch.

When Saudi Arabia was awarded the WTA Finals, the crown jewel of the women's game, there were questions from many within the game.

Awarding such a key female event to a country with no track record of women's sport - was that progress, a money grab (this will be the biggest prize fund this event has ever had) or sportswashing?

For Arij it is a precious opportunity to showcase her sport and grow the game.

"Bringing the finals to Saudi Arabia is going to accelerate the growth of tennis especially female tennis," she said.

"It's been up and coming in the last few years so bringing such a huge event is going to be testament to what Saudi Arabia has been pushing forward with other sporting events.

"Bringing all the stakeholders together, not just the players, you have the fans, the coaches, referees, so it will shed light on the sport in general and hopefully inspire the younger generation to aim higher and higher.

"To have the stars right in front of them. For a tennis fan it's like a dream come true."

Ten years ago there was no sport for girls in state schools, now 40,000 have been introduced to it in schools with the plan for at least 200,000 boys and girls to be playing by the time the finals take place in November.

Arij says there is no restriction to girls playing and that they will have access to any courts and any academy.

There is also no restriction on dress code, she said, adding: "There are no restrictions, whatever they're comfortable with. Take into consideration some cultures and traditions but anyone can wear anything they want.

"They can come and wear long or short, as long as it is tennis attire."

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But there was dismay from tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert when Saudi Arabia was awarded the end-of-season finale.

They wrote a joint letter to the Washington Post arguing that they didn't campaign for years for equality for the women's game only to see it handed to country where women did not have equality.

And openly gay player Daria Kasatkina also expressed concern about competing in a country where being gay is illegal, although she has since changed her view.

The Saudi Tennis Federation president said while everyone is entitled to their opinion she hopes the two tennis greats will support what they are trying to do in the country.

"Growing up they were my idols actually, having them onboard, honestly, will inspire a lot of tennis players in Saudi," she said.

"Of course, there are some differences but that's every country good and bad. I think if they come along we want to learn from them.

"They went through what we are going through right now but we are doing it at super-fast speed.

"If they join this journey with us to help move us forward it would be great. We want everyone to come and see for themselves."

The message from Saudi Arabia is everyone is welcome.

They have supporters too. The highest-seeded female tennis player from an Arab background, Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, sees it as an opportunity for the region.

She said: "It's a great thing that we're going to Saudi. We share, you know, our tennis experience with, with the young, you know, kids that they want to become, you know, champions.

"And, I know some people might not agree with it, but it's, I mean, I feel like it's okay to have different opinions and just it's great to judge when you're there."

Saudi would love a champion of their own.

For now it is about putting rackets in hand, building the grassroots, and encouraging the young elite players by hosting junior ITF tournaments to lift the standard.

They started the tennis programme a year and a half ago with one ITF-ranked player, now they have 20 - but to have a player on the professional women's or men's tour one day would be "the icing on the cake".

That may be some years away but with everything in sport moving so fast in Saudi, who knows?