Tennis: New WTA boss vows 'fundamental' calendar changes

Women's Tennis Association (WTA) CEO Steve Simon (L) presents Martina Hingis of Switzerland (R) with a ring Hall of Fame in Singapore on October 25, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Newly appointed Women's Tennis Assocation (WTA) chief executive Steve Simon Monday vowed "fundamental changes" to the sport's gruelling schedule following a rash of injuries among top players.

He told journalists at the year-ending WTA Finals in Singapore that he will consult players on how to alter the schedule to protect their health and keep the tour a "premium product" for tennis fans.

Simon, the former tournament director of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament, has replaced Stacey Allaster who stepped down in September.

"Clearly one of the big issues that we have right now is dealing with... getting our athletes through the season healthy," said the former collegiate tennis player.

"We have to look at our structure and look at what we do to give the athlete the best chance to be as close to 100 percent at the end of the year as they can." Simon hinted that next month's new WTA Elite Trophy in China is one event that could be rescheduled. He added that changing the calendar will be controversial because it will affect investments and traditions.

The busy final weeks of the season, which include a rising number of events in Asia, has been marked by a series of injuries and retirements.

"To do some of the things we have to do, we have to make some fundamental changes in the calendar and our approach to it," he said.

"I think we have to take an honest and open look at that. That'll probably be the first thing that begins to create controversy and angst among the group as we have those types of conversations."

Explosive growth

The WTA Finals, involving the top eight players, will be followed on November 2 by the inaugural WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, featuring players ranked nine-20, with one wildcard.

China alone has eight WTA events this year amid explosive growth in the sport following the career of the now retired Li Na, Asia's most successful tennis player with two Grand Slams to her name.

World number one Serena Williams pulled out of Singapore to "heal" her body and restore motivation after a heartbreaking loss at the US Open in September.

Second-ranked Simona Halep, the WTA Finals' top seed, was forced to retire in her opening match at the China Open in Beijing due to an ankle injury.

Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka and Belinda Bencic are also among the players who have retired from matches in recent weeks.

Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who will hold talks with Simon in Singapore, told reporters separately that "the number of injuries withdrawals is still too high".

"You 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 got a problem," she said.

Simon said the intense period between the end of the US Open and the WTA Finals is "the most exacerbated" because players are tired and also under extra pressure to reach the season finale.

He indicated that the WTA Elite Trophy is one of the tournaments that may be rescheduled.

"In a perfect world I would certainly like the WTA Finals, which is what we're here for, to be the last event of the year," Simon said.

"I don't have the solution to it today, but it's something that we're going to look at.

"We're very proud of the Zhuhai event coming on board. But it is something that I would like to address and see if we could flip the weeks possibly."

Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES