Tennis: S'pore to host WTA Finals for last time this year as season-ender moves to Shenzhen

Caroline Wozniacki celebrates with the trophy after winning the final against Venus Williams during the WTA Tour Finals in 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore will not remain the host city of the WTA Finals after this year as the season-ending tournament will move to Shenzhen, China, The Straits Times (ST) understands.

Sarah Clements, vice-president, Tennis (Asia) at Lagardere Sports, confirmed the end of Singapore's run as host on Wednesday (Jan 17) and said: "It has been a wonderful journey, and we would like to wish the WTA as well as the next host city every success. We are focused on delivering a spectacular Grand Finale for our fans and partners this October."

According to a statement from the Singapore Tourism Board, Lagardere and Sport Singapore (SportSG), the national sports agency, "evaluated the opportunity of a potential extension and decided not to pursue this".

Sources revealed that the decision appears to stem from the inability of all parties involved to agree on the value and price of the Finals.

However, in 2016, Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chief executive Steve Simon had revealed that he was keen to find a fixed venue for the tournament and said then that Singapore would be a place the WTA "would be very proud to call home".

His predecessor, Stacey Allaster, had also heaped high praise on the city's organisers following the inaugural edition in 2014. Then, she had called it "the best WTA Finals in the history of the WTA".

In a statement on Wednesday, Lionel Yeo, the STB's chief executive, noted the impact the tournament had made, saying that the US$7 million (S$9.26 million) event, which features the top eight women's singles players and doubles teams, "has contributed to Singapore's existing suite of vibrant lifestyle offerings and helped put us on the tennis world map with good branding benefits".

This included last year's concert by the Backstreet Boys as well as the inaugural tennis week, which saw community engagement efforts such as talks by renowned British tennis coach Judy Murray, who is also the mother of former men's world No. 1 Andy Murray.

"With the support of Lagardere Sports and partners including BNP Paribas and SC Global, we have achieved our objectives of making the WTA Finals one of the most highly anticipated and successful sporting events not just in Singapore but also in the region," he added.

"We wish to thank our partners and supporters for what has been an incredible journey and look forward to another top-class and memorable Finals in October."

Lim Teck Yin, chief executive officer of SportSG, noted that "having the WTA Finals in Singapore for the last four years has proven to be beneficial in raising the overall profile of the sport of tennis here, as well as inspiring our athletes, youth and community-at-large with a host of global sports role models".

But one source, who had attended the previous iteration of the Finals when it was hosted at the Sinan Erdem Domein Istanbul, Turkey from 2011 to 2013, told ST: "Singapore did a far better job at putting together fringe events, and the Singapore Sports Hub is an incredibly accessible venue with a mall attached, the huge difference is that unlike Turkey, there isn't a tournament-going psyche in Singapore, which the organisers did their best to tackle."

The Republic has hosted the tournament since 2014. This year's event takes place from Oct 21 to 28.

Simon had last October confirmed that the WTA had received bids from Manchester, Prague, St Petersburg and Shenzhen, although some tennis websites such as Tennis World had also named Singapore as one of three front runners. It is understood that the WTA board held a vote and decided to award the Chinese city the rights to host the season finale from next year till 2028.

The city's Longgang Sports Centre is a venue for two annual tournaments (one each for men and women). This year's women's event, the Jan 1-6 WTA Shenzhen Open, had a prize purse of US$750,000 and a line-up that included world No. 1 and eventual winner Simona Halep, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova.

But a representative for the WTA Shenzhen Open told ST on Wednesday that the season finale would take place in a "new stadium in Shenzhen".

The inaugural BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore presented by SC Global drew more than 129,000 fans over 10 competition days in 2014. That figure increased slightly to over 130,000 across 11 competition days the next year.

Some 133,000 people attended the event over the eight days of competition last year.

Last year's title was won by Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated American Venus Williams in straight sets.

Prior to Istanbul, previous host cities include Madrid (2006-2007) and Doha (2008-2010).

The ATP World Tour Finals, the men's equivalent of the event, has been held in London since 2009 and will stay there until 2020.

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