WTA responds to players’ criticism over ‘disrespectful’ organisation of WTA Finals

Sabalenka’s match against Elena Rybakina was suspended due to weather

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The Women’s Tennis Assocation has responded to criticism from leading players about the organistion of the WTA Finals in Cancun by accepting that this year’s tournament was “not a perfect event”.

World number 1 Aryna Sabalenka slammed the WTA over the conditions at the season-ending tournament in Mexico and said she and the sport’s other top players feel “disrespected”.

The WTA only announced that Cancum would host the Finals two months ago and the event is being held in a temporary arena, which has been built on top of a golf course. Sabalenka said it was “not acceptable” that she could only practice on the court for the first time until the day before her opening match.

In a letter to the players leaked to Sports Illustrated, WTA chief Steve Simon said the late selection of the Mexican resort of Cancun to host the WTA’s showpiece tournament was “based on a number of complicated factors”.

“It is clear you are not happy with the decision to be here in Cancun. I understand that and you have been heard,” he wrote after thanking the players for attending a meeting in Cancun.

“It is not a perfect event, we understand the conditions are a challenge and the WTA accepts responsibility for that.”

The WTA is the governing body of women’s tennis and the Finals is its showpiece event, with the top eight players in the world meeting to compete for the last title of the year.

But the Finals have been marred by controversy and disruption in recent seasons. The women’s tour signed a lucrative deal with Shenzhen in 2019 but it was not held the following year due to Covid-19, and has not resumed following the WTA’s decision to not play events in China over the disappearance of Peng Shuai.

In the interim, a late decision has been made over the host city of the Finals in each of the last three years. Guadalajara staged the tournament in 2021 before it headed to Fort Worth in Texas last year, where the poor attendances and swathes of empty seats were largely put down to the organisation of the event.

Sabalenka and world number four Elena Rybakina had their match suspended due to wet weather on Thursday.

Sabalenka won the first set 6-2 in the Australian Open final rematch on a rain interrupted evening and had Rybakina on the ropes early in the second set.

There were reports earlier this season that Saudi Arabia has expressed an interest in hosting this year’s WTA Finals and a one-year contract with Cancun has left that door open ahead of 2024.

The idea of the WTA hosting an event in Saudi Arabia is a controversial subject, given the scrutiny of the country’s record on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

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