It was early September, and Iga Swiatek had no concept the place her season would finish.
For the third yr in a row, the WTA Finals had been in limbo by way of the beginning of the United States Open.
“For sure, it’s pretty unfortunate and annoying we don’t have any decision yet,” Swiatek stated in late August, shortly earlier than the WTA introduced that Cancún, Mexico, would host this yr’s championship for the world’s high eight singles gamers and high eight doubles groups. “We, as players, are not involved in all of the discussions.”
Professional tennis gamers are extremely structured athletes who plan their schedules months, typically years, upfront. Because the WTA Tour competes in practically 30 international locations throughout six continents with barely an low season, the ladies spend a lot of their lives on the street, crisscrossing time zones and navigating their sophisticated journey. Knowing when and the place they will compete is crucial to their well-being and damage prevention.
In 2019, the WTA started what it thought was to be a 10-year deal for the Finals to be held in Shenzhen, China. When Covid hit the nation was shut down. Then, when Steve Simon, the chief government of the WTA, stated the tour wouldn’t return to China till it may set up the security and whereabouts of the previous participant Peng Shuai, who had disappeared after accusing a high-ranking authorities official of sexual abuse, the scenario grew to become precarious. Peng finally resurfaced and retracted her claims of abuse.
Now the deal is formally lifeless. The large query is, will it transfer to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and, if that’s the case, when?
The WTA board supported a transfer for this yr, however it was scuttled earlier than the announcement was made. Simon then traveled to Riyadh through the tour’s China swing earlier this month to work out particulars. But then conflict broke out within the Middle East, delaying an announcement.
While the ATP Tour is enjoying its Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, beginning on the finish of November, there was dissension among the many girls. Many present gamers, together with Jessica Pegula, Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur, are keen to go.
“Unfortunately, a lot of places don’t pay women a lot of money and, like a lot of women’s sports, we don’t have the luxury to say no to some things,” Pegula, a member of the WTA Players’ Council, stated through the U.S. Open.
“I think if the money was right and the arrangement was something that we could get behind, where we could go and create change, then I would be OK playing there,” she added.
Maria Sakkari stated she thought gamers wanted to be extra open-minded. “If the WTA can help women there move forward, then it’s a win for both of us,” she stated by telephone two weeks in the past.
Some former gamers don’t agree.
“Why would the leading sport for women go to a country with such a poor track record for women’s rights?” Pam Shriver, a 10-time WTA Finals doubles winner with Martina Navratilova, stated by telephone. “They’re compromising a payout with core values.”
Navratilova needs to see progress earlier than play.
“I’m all for opening up a dialogue,” Navratilova, additionally an eight-time WTA Finals singles champion, stated by telephone. “But I need to see a commitment to women. I want to know their goals and their education plans. You can’t just go in good faith. If they’re just going for money, it’s a big mistake. The WTA will lose credibility for looking the other way and ignoring Saudi’s human rights violations.”
Sabalenka and Jabeur are scheduled to affix Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz in an exhibition in Saudi Arabia referred to as the Riyadh Season Tennis Cup in December. They will play at Kingdom Arena, which has a seating capability of about 40,000.
By comparability, the WTA Finals might be performed in a 4,300-seat short-term stadium in Quintana Roo. The venue, on the grounds of the Paradisus Cancún lodge, will even function two on-site follow courts for the gamers. Operational prices are estimated to be $6 million, which incorporates constructing the stadium. The value, together with $9 million in whole prize cash, is to be divided among the many WTA, the promoters and the state of Quintana Roo, the place Cancún is.
“Staging the WTA Finals in Cancún was one we could meet and tick off lots of boxes,” stated Fabrice Chouquet, a director of the event. “The culture, the fans, giving players from around the world the opportunity to be in Mexico, where we have great weather and good conditions to host the event and vibrant hospitality because that’s also the signature of Mexico.”
Two years in the past, the Finals had been held in close by Guadalajara and gained by Garbiñe Muguruza. Last yr, after a lot delay in asserting the venue, the occasion was moved to the 14,000-seat Dickies area in Fort Worth, which skilled a dearth of attendance till the ultimate weekend. Caroline Garcia gained the title.
For greater than 20 years from 1979-2000, the year-end championships had been performed at Madison Square Garden in New York and routinely attracted greater than 15,000 followers.
This yr, whole prize cash for singles and doubles might be $9 million. If the champion goes undefeated in round-robin play, she is going to pocket $3 million.
This yr’s singles opponents embrace the Australian Open champion Sabalenka, the French Open winner Swiatek, the U.S. Open champ Coco Gauff, the Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina, Pegula, Jabeur and Sakkari. Karolina Muchova was the eighth qualifier, however she was pressured to withdraw final week due to a wrist damage, permitting room for Sakkari.
Sabalenka, Swiatek and Sakkari are enjoying for the third straight yr, whereas Pegula, Gauff and Jabeur are second-year opponents. Rybakina and Vondrousova are making their Finals debut this yr.
One different subject going through the WTA Finals this yr is its proximity to the Billie Jean King Cup, the worldwide group competitors for ladies, which begins in Seville, Spain, simply two days after the tip of the Finals in Cancún. Pegula, Gauff and Swiatek have declined to play within the King Cup. It is the second yr that the 2 signature occasions have conflicted.
“We’ve had our date for a long time,” stated King in a video convention this month. “I think we all need to figure out a better calendar for the players and everybody knowing what’s going to happen because you can’t start making these decisions on the Finals in September. It’s only fair.”
The subject is requiring masterful juggling, to not point out psychological gymnastics, for Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. After reaching the ultimate in Zhengzhou, China, two weeks in the past, Krejcikova flew 1,000 miles to Zhuhai, China, the place she was the highest seed in final week’s WTA Elite Trophy, a year-end competitors for 12 high singles gamers and 6 doubles groups who simply missed the minimize for the WTA Finals.
But Krejcikova and her associate, Katerina Siniakova, additionally certified for doubles on the WTA Finals, which begins on Sunday. That requires a 9,000-mile journey from Zhuhai to Cancún.
Then, as quickly because the WTA Finals finish, Krejcikova will fly yet one more practically 5,000 miles from Cancún to Seville for the Billie Jean King Cup. But she is going to no less than have firm as her Czech teammates Siniakova and Vondrousova are additionally enjoying in Cancún and Seville.
Regardless of scheduling difficulties, journey complications and the politics concerned in selecting event websites, gamers who qualify for the WTA Finals relish the chance to compete.
“I always felt that it was a celebration, a reward for a great season,” stated Sakkari, who reached the semifinals final yr with wins over Sabalenka, Pegula and Jabeur. “It’s huge. There are just seven other players there, and you’re playing against the best of the best. That’s very unique.”