Leading up to the WTA’s annual season finale, the players participating typically aim to utilize their time by making necessary preparations on the main court. This involves fine-tuning various details, such as adjusting to the court’s speed and accounting for weather conditions like wind and sun.
Unfortunately, the WTA Finals in Cancún faced some challenges as the top eight tennis players in the world arrived last week. The stadium was not yet completed and the hard court was not yet installed. The venue, hastily constructed on the grounds of a luxurious hotel resort, was a temporary structure that was not fully prepared until the day before the tournament began on Saturday morning.
Ons Jabeur expressed disappointment over starting the first day of the stadium. The event holds great importance and we should have been prepared to play on the court. Hopefully, this situation will not occur again in the future.
There have been numerous problems this season that have caused frustration among players towards the WTA and its ineptitude. These issues, even if seemingly minor, raise concerns about the organization’s management as it reaches a critical juncture in its existence.
The 2023 WTA Finals were originally not planned to take place in Mexico. In 2018, the tour finalized a 10-year agreement valued at almost $1 billion for the WTA Finals to occur in Shenzhen from 2019 to 2028. This decision was part of the WTA’s ambitious efforts to grow in China, which has ultimately had negative repercussions for the organization.
Four months after the controversial first and only edition in Shenzhen, Covid-19 struck. Since its cancellation in 2020, the WTA Finals has flitted from city to city without a home. After Guadalajara 2021, last year Dallas-Fort Worth was decided on only in September. With only two months to promote the event, the crowds were predictably pitiful.
Once again, history repeated itself when the tour was unable to confirm the location until the final moments. Following a widely publicized vote by the board during the US Open, it was announced on September 7th that Cancún had won the bid, despite tempting offers from Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic being turned down.
Following his loss, Tomas Petera, the leader of the Czech bid, criticized the WTA. He claimed that the Czechs had put forth a superior offer: a four-year agreement with $15 million in prize money and a $6 million fee to the WTA, in a market that would attract large crowds and generate significant profits. However, the WTA has chosen to bear a significant financial burden in Cancún and players will only receive $9 million in prize money. Many believe that Cancún is only a temporary solution until next year, and there is speculation that Saudi Arabia may be considered again.
The WTA Finals have faced turbulence due to the pandemic, highlighting the challenges of the tour. This event is a major source of financial gain for the tour, with past records showing significant revenue. However, in 2019, the WTA reported a loss of only $1m, but in 2020 and 2021, the losses have increased to $16.5m and $15.1m respectively, according to public records.
Due to financial challenges, the WTA has been unable to effectively promote the sport. Their streaming service, WTA TV, frequently experiences technical difficulties and, even after six years, there is still no mobile app available. In contrast, the ATP has a larger team and consistently provides fans with diverse social media content both on and off the court, taking inspiration from Formula One. The WTA’s YouTube channel mainly features brief highlights and lacks other content. Additionally, the WTA has not posted on TikTok in three years. Over the past ten years, there has been a significant increase in the prize money gap between the ATP and WTA.
The WTA recently announced that it will receive a $150 million investment from CVC Capital Partners, giving the private equity firm a 20% ownership stake. This will result in significant changes to the tour’s structure, including the creation of a new commercial branch called WTA Ventures starting next year.
Players will experience changes in scheduling rules, as top players will have limited participation in smaller WTA 250 events in order to compete more often in larger events and potentially create significant rivalries. The WTA has also announced plans for increased marketing efforts and a goal of achieving equal prize money with the ATP within the next ten years. However, given the WTA’s previous organizational problems, it is uncertain if they will successfully follow through on these ambitious statements.
Although there have been issues outside of the game, this year has been successful on the court and the lineup for the final episode is impressive. Iga Swiatek has continued her incredible 2022 season with a strong and steady performance, while Aryna Sabalenka, the top-ranked player, has proven to be a formidable opponent. The top ranking for the year will be determined between them in Mexico.
In a remarkable turn of events at the US Open, Coco Gauff finally lived up to the overwhelming expectations and claimed her first ever grand slam victory. She will be competing in the same round-robin group as Jabeur and Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, who bring unique playing styles to the tour.
Sabalenka’s category, on the other hand, consists of Elena Rybakina, who has proven herself after winning the 2022 Wimbledon title and having an excellent season, as well as consistent top-10 players Jessica Pegula and Maria Sakkari. There is no question that these players will compete fiercely on the court, but it is the responsibility of the WTA to create a framework that truly showcases their skills.