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Tennis star Daria Kasatkina, an openly gay player on the WTA Tour, has received assurances about her safety if she competes in Saudi Arabia.

The 26-year-old is vying for a spot in the season-ending WTA Finals, set to take place in Riyadh for the first time this November. “I’ve been given guarantees that I’m going to be fine,” the world number 11 told BBC Sport.

When asked at Wimbledon last year, Kasatkina expressed concerns about the Finals being held in Saudi Arabia, citing "many issues concerning this country." However, during the Madrid Open after securing a third-round victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Kasatkina highlighted the advantages of bringing the tour's premier event to Riyadh under a three-year agreement.

“If I qualify, it means that I am top eight in the world - it’s great news for me,” she said. “We see that the Saudis now are very into the sport, they want to develop the sport. 

"As long as it gives the opportunity to the people there, and the young kids and the women to actually see the sport - so that they can watch it, they can play it, they can participate in this, I think it’s great.”

On Sunday, Kasatkina, the six-time WTA titleist, who previously qualified for the year-end championships in 2022, when it was held in Fort Worth, defeated Pavlyuchenkova with a score of 7-6 (5), 7-5, advancing to the next round where she will meet Kazakh player Yulia Putintseva.

Kasatkina has been reassured over her safety when playing in Saudi Arabia. GETTY IMAGES
Kasatkina has been reassured over her safety when playing in Saudi Arabia. GETTY IMAGES

The announcement earlier this month regarding the WTA Finals being hosted in the Saudi capital had been anticipated for some time and has certainly sparked controversy.

Human rights organisations have consistently raised concerns about the growing Saudi participation in tennis and sports overall, especially regarding the treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community. Former world number one Martina Navratilova has been one of the most outspoken critics of the decision and reiterated her disapproval following the official announcement.

“We’re going to Saudi Arabia which is about as big a change as you can make except for maybe going to North Korea,” said Navratilova. “One of the comments I heard, one of the players said they ‘don’t want to be political’. Going to Saudi is about as political you can get. Welcome to sport.

“We’re a bit egotistical to think we can make a difference but who knows? Maybe this is a good thing, we’ll see how this goes. The players have to honour that, they’re the ones competing. We’re not affected by it. We’re not going there to play.”