The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen will host the WTA Finals from 2019 for a decade with record prize money of $14 million for the season-ending event — a move welcomed by players.
The elite tournament, which sees the top eight female players battle it out for the Billie Jean King trophy, has previously been held in Singapore.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce that the dynamic city of Shenzhen has been chosen to host the WTA Finals, the WTA’s crown jewel season finale, for the next decade,” WTA chief Steve Simon said on the sidelines of the Australian Open.
“This will easily be the largest and most significant WTA Finals deal in the 45 years since the WTA was founded and promises to take the event to a spectacular new level.”
Simon said in 2016 that the body was searching for a permanent base for the event, with interest reportedly received from Singapore, Manchester, Prague, St Petersburg and Shenzhen.
The winning bid was submitted by Gemdale Corporation, one of China’s largest property developers, and will include building a state-of-the-art venue in the city centre, with seating for 12,000 people.
Prize money will double from the current $7 million.
“Shenzhen is an exciting, fast-evolving metropolis and staging the WTA Finals there will ensure the WTA’s global fan base goes from strength to strength,” said WTA President Micky Lawler in explaining the choice.
China already hosts a number of top-level tour tournaments and has several purpose-built facilities.
Simon dismissed concerns that too much tennis was now heading to China.
“I don’t believe so,” he said. “If you look at the WTA, it’s a global tour. We need to continue to keep our balance.”
– ‘Go where growth is’ –
The WTA made a decision in 2008 to grow the brand in China and the wider Asia-Pacific, and with the Shenzhen announcement they will now have nine tournaments in the region.
Billie Jean King, founder of the WTA, said it was “absolutely incredible” to witness the growth of the season-ending event.
“Shenzhen will be a fantastic home for the WTA Finals,” she added.
“The record setting $14 million purse set for Shenzhen reflects the global strength of our sport and how Shenzhen and China have embraced women’s tennis.”
Key players welcomed the move, and the big boost in money they will earn.
Maria Sharapova said the championship was heading to a place “that’s willing to grow the sport”.
“If you look at the numbers … you want to go to a place that’s willing to invest in women’s tennis. That’s where we’re headed to,” she said in Melbourne.
“They were the ones that put the money on the line. They are willing to grow our sport. They’re willing to build a stadium, willing to accept the game and its level and the players.
“We want to go where the growth will be.”
World number one Simona Halep said she had chosen to start her season in Shenzhen for several years “and I am thrilled that the city has been selected to stage the WTA Finals”.
“It’s a fascinating and friendly place, with some of the best tennis fans in the world,” she added.
The WTA Finals were first played in 1972 with Shenzhen becoming the 10th different host city.
It has also been held in Boca Raton, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Munich, Madrid, Doha, Istanbul, and Singapore. – AFP