The WTA’s plans to go ahead with the Asian swing of their tour was apparently scuppered when a press release from the Chinese press agency Xinhua on Thursday announced a decision by the General Administration of Sport of China to cancel all international events due to be held in China in 2020, with the only exception of test events for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
As the WTA Tour looks to return to competition in 2020, we are pleased to provide additional playing opportunities for our athletes. We are delighted to welcome the teams in Prague and Lexington onto the 2020 provisional calendar and look forward to the return of women's professional tennis. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO
This seems to include all tennis tournaments planned for the months of September and October, in particular the WTA Premier 5 in Wuhan, the WTA Premier Mandatory in Beijing and, above all, the WTA Championships in Shenzhen, as well as the ATP Masters 1000 Shanghai Rolex Masters.
With some 60 percent of the WTA’s annual turnover dependent on revenues generated by its Chinese swing over the autumn, this is a major blow to the women’s tour.
As yet, there is no official comment from the WTA Headquarters in St Petersburg, Florida, which suggests the announcement has come as a major surprise to the organisation that has been trying to salvage the tour in the face of the coronavirus lockdown.
Laying contingency plans at this late stage to replace these big events with other tournaments in other locations around the world looks problematical, particularly sourcing a sufficient number of high-paying sponsors to fill the deficit.
Earlier on Thursday, the WTA announced that it is applying similar measures to the ATP with their rankings system, but taking 16 best results, rather than 18, over a 22-month period ending in December this year to determine a players singles ranking.
As with the ATP, no player can count the same event twice in their best results.
“In order to balance fairness and flexibility for all players, the WTA Rankings will generally follow the ‘Better of 2019 and 2020’ point model, in alignment with the ATP Tour,” the WTA said in a statement.
“In reaching this decision, various elements were considered including the provisional 2020 revised calendar, various travel restrictions, varying levels of player comfort of traveling to compete, as well as the elimination of player commitment requirements for the remainder of 2020.”
The WTA and ATP rankings were frozen in March after the tours were abruptly suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the implementation of the frozen rankings, the WTA Tour’s Players’ Council and Tournament Council underwent an extensive review of the ranking process in order to identify the necessary adjustments upon returning to play.
In reaching this decision, various elements were considered, including the provisional 2020 revised calendar, various travel restrictions, varying levels of player comfort of traveling to compete, as well as the elimination of player commitment requirements for the remainder of 2020.
With the sport’s shutdown Australia’s World No 1 Ashleigh Barty has held down the top spot in women’s tennis for more than 12 months.
Having accrued the maximum possible ranking points for her French Open triumph last year, Barty will not now be in a position to defend these if she plays Roland Garros in September, as would have been the case under the usual rolling 52-week based system.
Plans to relaunch the tours next month persist, with the US Open remaining in its regular calendar slot at the end of August, but Barty has yet to commit to travelling to the United States.
The French Open champion also has to weigh up the logistical challenge of travelling to Europe with the rescheduled major in Paris due to start two weeks after the US Open concludes.
“My team and I probably won’t make a decision on the US events until much closer to the time,” Barty said last month. “There are still a lot of questions we need answered before making our decision.
“My health and the health of my team is the priority for me.”
The WTA have also added two new events to the revised provisional calendar published on Thursday and aimed at completing the 2020 season.
With the tour due to resume in Palermo, Italy, on 3 August, two new events are scheduled for the following week – the Prague Open in the Czech Republic and the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics in Lexington, marking the first WTA tournament to be held in Kentucky, USA.
Prague was originally planned to take place in the spring and was tentatively included in an earlier draft of the new calendar, but then almost immediately dropped, while the new event in Kentucky replaces the WTA International Citi Open, due to take place in Washington, DC at the same time as the ATP 500 event.
“As the WTA Tour looks to return to competition in 2020, we are pleased to provide additional playing opportunities for our athletes,” said Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO.
“We are delighted to welcome the teams in Prague and Lexington onto the 2020 provisional calendar and look forward to the return of women’s professional tennis.”
With the cancellation of their Chinese events, however, those opportunities are severely diminished and, in these challenging and unprecedented times, the WTA is now facing an uncertain future.