Tennis: A championships of firsts

INSPIRATION: Tennis legend Chris Evert and current world No. 19 Eugenie Bouchard (centre) pose with over 100 students at the Road to Singapore promotional event for the WTA Championships at Marina Bay Sands on Monday.

It has already broken new ground by coming to the Asia-Pacific for the first time in the 44-year history of the tournament.

But the prestigious season-ending Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Championships - to be hosted here from Oct 17 to 26 at the Singapore Sports Hub - will feature several other firsts.

In a press conference titled the "Road to Singapore" at the Marina Bay Sands yesterday, WTA chairman and chief executive officer Stacey Allaster said: "The WTA is committed to the long-term development of the sports community in Singapore.

"Through numerous programmes we've put in place, we look forward to growing our fan base and empowering the people of the region through sports."

The championships will feature the top eight women's singles players doing battle and eight doubles pairs fighting it out.

The prize money will be increased by US$500,000 ($640,000) to US$6.5 million.

Allaster went on to outline a few new initiatives that will piggyback the WTA's biggest tournament in Singapore.

Here's what to expect from the tennis extravaganza this year, the first of five the Republic will host.

1. LONGER TOURNAMENT

The Championships this year will take place over seven days in a 10-day event, compared to six in Istanbul last year.

In 2015, the tournament will start on Sunday and stretch over eight days.

Said Allaster: "It would be two weekends, which will be great for our fans and our athletes, because then it would provide them with the same playing schedule as a Grand Slam - one day on (court), one day off.

"The intensity of the matches is so great that we need to give the athletes time to rest."

2. MORE TENNIS ACTION

Other than the singles competition, the doubles tournament will be expanded from four to eight pairs this year.

Also, the Championships will feature a new WTA Rising Stars Exhibition during the opening Fan Festival weekend.

The invitational event will feature WTA's up-and-coming talent from Asia and around the world.

These players will take part in pro-am matches, clinics and community outreach programmes.

In addition, the WTA Legends Exhibition will make its debut in Singapore this year.

But tennis legend and four-time championship winner Chris Evert , 59, deadpanned: "Don't even think I am going out there to play."

3. IN SINGAPORE, FOR SINGAPORE

Outside of the Championships, the WTA's local office - to be based at the Sports Hub - will roll out a sports marketing internship programme for students here.

One Singaporean female Masters of Business Administration student will get to intern at the WTA's headquarters in Florida for six months each year, for five years, as part of the new Fellowship Programme.

The WTA will also launch a Future Stars programme in partnership with the Singapore Sports Council, which will showcase the top junior female players in the region, with an emphasis on South-east Asia.

Each of the "12 to 16 markets" will have their Road to Singapore tournaments, which will culminate in the Future Stars tournament here.

"Let's make this Asia's Championships... we are looking at the Under-14 and U-16 age-groups, but we are still working out the final details," said Allaster.

sayheng@sph.com.sg


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