Tennis: WTA in good shape - new CEO Steve Simon tells The Straits Times

Steve Simon, the new CEO of the WTA, says the high level at which world No. 1 and 21-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams plays contributes to rising Tour standards overall.
Steve Simon, the new CEO of the WTA, says the high level at which world No. 1 and 21-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams plays contributes to rising Tour standards overall.PHOTO COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES

New boss Simon sees younger challengers raising their game as Serena sets the bar high

Just as how the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) leadership is now in transition, women's tennis will also eventually see the passing of the baton from Serena Williams to the Tour's next generation of leading players.

But despite that reality in the future, and even with the immediate absence of the world No. 1 from this month's WTA Finals in Singapore, the new head honcho of women's professional tennis is positive that all up-and-comers will stand in good stead as they measure themselves against the American's lofty standards.

The WTA named Steve Simon early yesterday morning as its chief executive officer. The 60-year-old, who is married with two children in their 30s, will leave his current position as tournament director and chief operating officer of the BNP Paribas Indian Wells tournament to replace Stacey Allaster.

The Canadian, aged 52, stepped down late last month after helming the WTA for more than six years. She expressed a desire to spend more time with her family.

Simon told The Straits Times in a phone interview from California yesterday: "In sport as well as life, you have an evolution of talent as you go through and everyone has their career and move on, and you have a new generation that will come in behind them.

WILLIAMS IS THE BENCHMARK

Serena is the focal point that the young players coming up are trying to base their game on today. They're trying to reach her standards.

STEVE SIMON, the new chief executive officer of the Women's Tennis Association

"Fortunately we have a very exciting generation following Serena and her great leadership and play."

Williams has won 21 major events and came close to a historic calendar-year Grand Slam last month, setting the bar sky high for her peers and others who hope to make it on the circuit.

And it is this high level at which the American plays that contributes to lifting the Tour overall, said Simon.

"It's an exciting time (and) I hope Serena plays for another 10 years," he said. "Serena is the focal point that the young players coming up are trying to base their game on today. They're trying to reach her standards.

"There'll be some new players coming in that, over time, will enter this conversation (and ask themselves), are they as good as Serena, can they rival her record?"

He named Romania's world No. 2 Simona Halep and Czech Petra Kvitova as among a handful of players who, despite an overwhelmingly inferior head-to-head record against Williams, have been pushed to raise their games in an attempt to match her.

Kvitova, for instance, found her breakthrough against the American in May's Madrid Open after five previous losses.

Other starlets such as Swiss Belinda Bencic and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza also claimed the biggest scalps of their careers against Williams - Bencic in this year's Rogers Cup and Muguruza in last year's French Open.

And it is this same spirit of excellence that Simon hopes to continue to cultivate and grow within the WTA - from the way the organisation is run, down to the intricacies of every event under its auspices.

"With everything we do, we want to see the (WTA Finals in Singapore) grow and become the standard from which all WTA events are measured from. It needs to be about building a premium product and striving for excellence across every part of the event," said Simon, who will be relocating from California to the WTA's headquarters in Florida.

"My biggest challenge will be to continue to drive everything that this organisation does... doing the very best we can, and pursuing excellence in every thing we do.

"We have so much room for growth, and I mean that in a positive way. This is a business that I never want to see reach its potential. We should always be striving for greater heights, and I'm excited about that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'WTA IN GOOD SHAPE: CEO'. Print Edition | Subscribe