WTA Finals, a Nomadic Tournament, Lands in Mexico


After 20 years of wandering the globe, the WTA Finals had lastly discovered a residence, or so it appeared in 2019.

That was the primary yr the finals have been held, to nice fanfare, in Shenzhen, China, below a deal that will preserve the match there for 10 years.

The occasion has not been again since, and on Wednesday it’s going to as an alternative be performed in Guadalajara, Mexico, after an settlement in September.

The match, which has been performed below completely different names over time, has lengthy been a bit nomadic. It was held at Madison Square Garden from 1979 to 2000 and has moved 5 instances from 2001 to 2013. It then spent 5 years in Singapore.

The pandemic pressured the cancellation of final yr’s match, the primary time it had not been held for the reason that finals started almost 50 years in the past, when the finals have been known as the Virginia Slims Championships.

This yr, with the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, which means some gamers can be competing in one of many largest tournaments exterior of the Grand Slams in the third completely different metropolis in the final three finals.

“I personally don’t care if the location changes every year; it’s always exciting to be able to compete in the event,” stated Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who certified thrice from 2015 to 2017 and is likely one of the eight gamers invited to play singles this yr.

For months, the WTA deliberate a return to Shenzhen, whereas having parallel discussions with different cities, together with Hong Kong.

“Knowing the situation was less than clear, we had a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C,” stated Micky Lawler, the WTA president. “We wanted to give our top players a chance to compete the way they deserved to end 2021, but putting on events is really tough during a pandemic, and circumstances keep changing and are out of your control.”

The tour ended up going with Plan D: Guadalajara.

“It’s very difficult to plan an event at this scale, and they offered a great solution in a market where we already had a tournament,” Lawler stated, referring to the lower-level match held there in March. (The No. 1 seed was Forty sixth-ranked Nadia Podoroska of Argentina.)

The WTA was impressed by the crew that ran that match, but additionally there was no Plan E, Lawler stated. “This wasn’t a situation of ‘Let’s choose between places,’” she stated. “It was, ‘We don’t want a second year in a row without a WTA Finals, so let’s put all our resources together and make this work.’”

Lawler stated that Steve Simon, the WTA chief govt, was operating weekly board conferences and that the tour held fixed discussions with the gamers and the sponsors. “Everyone’s attitude was that this was not what we planned for, but they would support it because it was better than no tournament.”

While Lawler is for certain that there can be challenges — she factors to a sudden Covid-related lockdown that began throughout a current match in Moscow — she is assured that they are going to be surmountable. Many of the gamers are definitely anticipating the match, even when there are obstacles. (The exception is Ashleigh Barty, the tour’s top-ranked participant and the defending champion. She is skipping the match to keep away from one other stint in quarantine after returning to her native Australia.)

Karolina Pliskova stated reaching the WTA Finals was at all times a private aim when the season began. This is her fifth straight yr on the match, making her the one participant apart from Muguruza with expertise in the occasion. The newcomers competing in singles are Paula Badosa, Anett Kontaveit, Barbora Krejcikova, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari and Iga Swiatek.

Pliskova, who’s the one individual to play in Singapore, Shenzhen and now Guadalajara over three consecutive WTA Finals, stated the shift in locales erased a few of her benefit.

“It’s better for players who have never played in the tournament because if it was in the same place each year, players who had been there would know how the courts play and know all the activities and would feel more relaxed,” she stated. “This year, everybody is basically starting from zero.”

The largest distinction between Guadalajara and just about another WTA Finals location is the altitude. The metropolis is about 5,000 toes above sea stage, which is able to make the ball fly sooner however trickier to regulate, whereas additionally difficult gamers to catch their breath after lengthy rallies.

“The altitude is a salient factor, and it came up in conversations with the players, but everyone’s in the same boat,” Lawler stated, including that it’s no completely different from having a floor that favors sure gamers. “These players are the best of the best, so while some will love it less, they’re going to adjust.”

Krejcikova stated that she had no expertise enjoying at that altitude, however that she didn’t care about how it might change the sport. “I’m just happy to be going to the WTA Finals,” she stated. “I always wanted to play against the other top players to see where my level is.”

She stated that she believed that the larger hitters and servers would possibly profit from getting additional velocity on their energy pictures, ensuing in shorter factors, however that she wouldn’t resolve modify her recreation till she practiced there.

Muguruza stated the strongest gamers would possibly profit from the altitude. But the additional velocity comes with a catch. “It will be the ones who can control their power who will have more opportunities,” she stated, as a result of balls might simply sail lengthy or large.

Pliskova stated she would possibly change the strain on her strings to offer her extra management or extra spin.

“I don’t want to change too much — my game is my game — but I may change a little,” she stated, including that somebody who was good at defending would possibly profit if gamers couldn’t management their pictures, so long as they have been in ok situation to deal with lengthy factors at that altitude.

Although the WTA hopes to return the finals to Shenzhen in 2022, there may be hope that this uncommon go to from the sport’s greatest gamers will give the game a increase in Mexico. Heather Bowler, a spokeswoman for the International Tennis Federation, stated in an e mail that on the leisure and beginner stage Mexico had the bottom ratio in the area of gamers to inhabitants and the bottom proportion of feminine gamers.

“Bringing an elite-level tournament, WTA Finals will drive awareness and increase an appetite for the game, so it certainly is a good basis on which to build on in the future,” she wrote, “and the WTA should be a great catalyst for sport in the region and for Mexico as a nation.”

Lawler stated that whereas nothing was in the works, elevated curiosity might ultimately result in larger tournaments and extra assets for younger gamers in the area, creating a constructive cycle. “If there is an appetite to build something in Mexico, we would do everything we can to support it,” she stated.

Krejcikova stated she thought of the best way the game and the gamers have been seen by women at each match, however particularly when it was someplace new.

“I hope we are good examples for them,” she stated, “and can have a big impact on the younger generation in Mexico.”