Appearing in Amazon Prime’s coverage of the GNP Seguros WTA Finals Cancun last week saw pundit Martina Navratilova call for WTA chief Steve Simon’s resignation following all the difficulties faced by players in Mexico, and she also wants a woman to head up the organisation
Anyone got a private jet and want to fly me from Cancun to Seville tomorrow night to make it in time for BJKC Tuesday 10am match. Really not impressed with this scheduling disaster. Why do I have to be punished for this? Ellen Perez
The season-ending championships, which featured the top 8 women’s singles players and doubles teams of the year, was plagued by problems from the get-go, ranging from the late announcement of the venue to the poor quality of the court.
Plus, the weather played havoc with the schedule necessitating the finals to be postponed until Monday because many matches were delayed or interrupted by rain.
Players complained about the lack of practice facilities, transportation links, and communication from the organisers.
The windy and rainy conditions for many of the matches and the issues with the temporary playing surface brought complaints from players all week, prompting Simon to respond to players.
“It is clear you are not happy with the decision to be here in Cancun. I understand that and you have been heard,” Simon wrote in a letter. “It is not a perfect event. We understand the conditions are a challenge and the WTA accepts responsibility for that.”
Navratilova said that Simon, the WTA’s CEO and Chairman since 2015, should step down and make way for a woman to take charge of the women’s association.
“Maybe it’s time for new leadership,” 18-times Grand Slam singles champion Navratilova told broadcaster Amazon Prime. “For me personally, this being a woman’s association and being involved for such a long time from the beginning, we’ve only had two women at the head of it.
“I think it’s time, hopefully, when we get a new leader, that it’s a woman. There’s plenty of them that are qualified for the job.
“I know one particularly, but, anyway, we’ll see what happens but it’s going to be hard, I think, for Steve to stay in the job, somehow, because things are just everything’s pointing the other way right now,” she added.
Navratilova also said that the event was bound to fail from the beginning, and that the WTA should admit their mistakes instead of hiding them.
“It shouldn’t have come that late in the year, making this decision. There was a sequence of bad decisions and ultimately Steve Simon has been the boss for nine years and here we are.
“So the players adjusted, they had to, but to come to Cancun in the rainy season, you cannot be hoping that it’s not going to rain in the premier event for the WTA tour,” she said. “You have to own the bad decisions you made and make tough choices after that. Maybe it is time for new leadership.”
Navratilova won the prestigious year-end tournament a record 8 times in singles and 13 times in doubles, making her the most decorated player in the tournament’s history.
She reached the final at the year-end tournament in 1975, when she lost to Chris Evert in straight sets, 6–4 6–2, and, 3 years later, she won her first title, defeating Evonne Goolagong Cawley in the final in straight sets, 7-6(2) 6-4.
The Czech-born American went on to win 7 more titles in the next 8 years, dominating the tournament with her powerful serve-and-volley game.
She also won 13 doubles titles from 1977 to 1991, partnering with various players such as Billie Jean King, Pam Shriver, and Betty Stove.
Navratilova retired from singles in 1994 but continued to play doubles until 2006, finally ending her career with a total of 167 singles titles and 177 doubles titles, the most in the Open Era.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated obtained the letter that WTA CEO Simon shared with the players, and published it on social media: “Many thanks to those of you who were able to join our meeting here in Cancun. We do welcome your engagement and hope that it will continue. As we were not able to get into some of the areas, we felt it important to share with you the following: First and foremost, it is clear that you are not happy with the decision to be here in Cancun.
“I understand that and you have been heard. As I have reflected to you, this is not where we expected to be and the decision for this location was based upon a number of complicated factors. It is not a perfect event, we understand the conditions are a challenge and the WTA will of course accepts responsibility for that.
“I am appreciative that you have reflected in the media your recognition of the significant support from Cancun and all of the people that are working so hard to put on this event. I wish you the best of luck for remainder of the event and, as always, we are here to provide you any support and assistance that we can as you all deserve the best,” WTA CEO Simon said in his letter to the players.
With both the singles and doubles finals postponed until Monday, there was further backlash over the close proximity of the WTA Finals to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in terms of time and the lack of transportation links for a players competing at both to get from Cancun to Seville without several flight connections.
Australia’s Ellen Perez was caught out by the tight overlap after competing in the doubles final in Cancun on Monday and expected in Seville on Tuesday where she was to represent Australia in a crucial BJK Cup tie against Slovakia.
Perez took to Twitter to express her frustration over the scheduling conflict, which required her to travel nearly 8,000 kilometres overnight, writing on X * (formerly Twitter): “Anyone got a private jet and want to fly me from Cancun to Seville tomorrow night to make it in time for BJKC Tuesday 10am match. Really not impressed with this scheduling disaster. Why do I have to be punished for this?
Adding to the conversation, journalist José Morgado highlighted the distance and scheduling issue, saying: “Laura Siegemund and Ellen Perez will play the BJK Cup Finals, that start on Tuesday. 7,814 kms away.”
Perez responded to Morgado’s tweet, emphasising her disadvantage compared to her doubles opponent Laura Siegemund, who has more time before her BJK Cup match, posting: “Well I play Tuesday 10am… she plays Thursday luckily. Big cya later to making it in time for me.”
Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only Aussie in the Billie Jean King Cup team who was impacted, with new World Doubles No 1 Storm Hunter, who made the semi-final of the tournament but was eliminated, leaving a few hours earlier but not ready to play on early on Tuesday.
It left team Australia’s captain Alicia Molik with 3 players potentially available for the tie.
“I’m hoping she arrives feeling wonderful, but she might warm up, and then I don’t know. It’s up to her if she wants to play or not,” Molik said. “She’s experienced enough. I’m just conservative.
“If she doesn’t feel quite right, she’s got the right to say ‘save me for Thursday’. I mean, it’s 18-hour door-to-door trip so anyone can be forgiven for not wanting to play as they land.”
The upshot was that Hunter won her doubles match despite only landing in Seville a few hours before the match, and losing her luggage, but her win alongside Kimberly Birrell could not stop the 2022 runners-up losing to Slovenia, 2-1.
“It was obviously a quick turnaround, but for me, representing my country is the greatest honour,” Hunter said.
It has left the tennis world baffled at the ridiculous scheduling by the WTA.