PICTURES

Top stars in women's tennis to play in Singapore

New Sports Hub set to host prestigious WTA Championships

Tennis fans could see women stars like Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka gracing Singapore's shores from next year.

The Straits Times understands that the Republic has secured the hosting rights to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Championships, the season-ending competition contested by the year's top women players.

Singapore beat Monterrey, Mexico and Tianjin, China in the final run-up to host the tournament, arguably the biggest act lined up for the Sports Hub so far.

Unlike China and Mexico, the Republic does not host a WTA event.

The six day-long competition is the most prestigious on the professional circuit after the four Grand Slams - the Australian, French and US Opens, as well as Wimbledon.

The official announcement is likely to be made through a live event online by the WTA today.

It will coincide with a media conference in Singapore to be attended by "government representatives" and sports officials, according to World Sport Group, which is part of the Singapore Sports Hub Consortium.

A team of top personnel from the WTA, including chief executive officer Stacey Allaster, made a trip to Singapore in February, after the Singapore Sports Hub put in a bid supported by the Singapore Sports Council last year.

Mr S. Uthrapathy, a veteran Singapore tennis official who met the team in his capacity as tournament director for the WTA's Tashkent Open, said that they left impressed.

"They were happy with what they saw, especially the fact that our bid has the full support of the Government," he said.

The US$4.9 million (S$6 million) event, which Williams won last year after beating Sharapova in the final, is watched by millions around the world on television.

The current host is Istanbul, where more than 70,000 fans flocked to its Sinan Erdem Arena to catch the 2011 edition.

The Turkish city will host the event for a third year in October, before Singapore takes over.

The Republic had been touted as the front runner from as early as last December, when Sports Illustrated executive editor and acclaimed tennis author Jon Wertheim cited multiple sources that "Singapore is the likely new home of the year-end championships".

While Singapore has not hosted a top-level professional tennis tournament since the 1999 Heineken Open, it is believed that factors such as its stable economy and affluent population work in its favour.

Each instalment of the championships is likely to come with a bill of more than US$15 million.

It will be the latest high-profile sports event to be held here, after the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, golf's HSBC Women's Champions and the Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

maychen@sph.com.sg