WTA Finals: Tour length to be cut?

Steve Simon.
Steve Simon.

New WTA CEO plans to gather opinions on shortening schedule to ease load on players

The Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) new chief executive officer Steve Simon does not yet know what is on the menu when he dines with Martina Navratilova tomorrow night, but he already knows what will be on the agenda.

Both highlighted yesterday in separate media conferences that the Tour calendar - specifically its length and the toll it is taking on players - needs to be addressed.

"One of the big issues that we have right now is getting our athletes through the season," the 60-year-old Simon said yesterday.

NO POINT IF PLAYERS ARE OUT

If I can't have (the players) on the court, I don't have the premium product I am looking to deliver.

STEVE SIMON, WTA chief executive officer, on the prospect of shortening the Tour calendar to keep players healthy.

The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global is the American's first official outing since replacing Canadian Stacey Allaster early this month.

The length of the tour, which has been hotly debated in both men's and women's tennis, is again a cause for concern with many of the WTA's best struggling for fitness and pulling out of tournaments.

Of the elite eight women's singles players competing in Singapore this week, few - if any - can be said to be free of pain.

"There isn't a league or sport out there where, at the end of the year, the athletes aren't dinged up," Simon, formerly the tournament director and chief operating officer of the Indian Wells tournament, was quick to note.

"But during the (period) of the year that the WTA calendar controls, we need to be respectful and look at that structure so we can keep our product healthy. Because it's our product. If I can't have (the players) on the court, I don't have the premium product I am looking to deliver."

Navratilova knows how serious the issue is because the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion has been through it herself. As the tennis legend said: "I was talking about that 35 years ago. The season is too long.

"You've got to think long-term. Maybe it's great to have all these tournaments, but at the end of the day, if you don't have enough players playing, you've got a problem."

The post-US Open calendar leading up to the season finale in Singapore is the portion that Simon is most keen to look at.

"The players are tired coming out of the US Open... then you exacerbate it when you have a compelling race that's forcing them to play even more to try to get here," he said, but added that players remain eager to be here.

"In a perfect world I would certainly like the WTA Finals... to be the last event of the year."

The WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai follows next week and will feature a field that includes Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic.

For a sport so steeped in tradition, tinkering with the calendar can be an uneasy business.

"Obviously you begin affecting schedules, investments that are being made. You begin affecting tradition, something that's been that way for a long time," Simon said.

"But it is something that we need to address."

He plans to schedule sit-downs with players and other stakeholders to hear them out on this issue. Starting tomorrow, perhaps, with one of the greatest players of the women's game.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Tour length to be cut?'. Print Edition | Subscribe