The WTA, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023, has released a provisional tournament calendar for next year leading up to the US Open in August, but this has no Chinese tournaments listed as yet on the schedule.
As the WTA celebrates its 50th anniversary, the 2023 calendar showcases the incredible breadth and reach of women’s tennis. We are excited and proud to showcase our amazing events to our global audience of over 900 million fans, with tournaments in 6 continents and over 20 countries from January to early September. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO
Steve Simon, the WTA CEO, stated that there are two issues for the WTA staying out of China, namely the Peng Shuai situation and the lingering COVID-19 restrictions.
Peng, a Grand Slam doubles champion and former World Doubles No 1, accused Chinese former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault last year in a post on social media that was quickly removed from the country’s internet and, although she later denied her statement, concerns over her well-being and safety led the WTA to suspend its tournaments in China.
Simon has called for a full and transparent inquiry into Peng’s allegations, and a chance for the tour to communicate with her, but nothing has been forthcoming as yet.
An updated calendar is expected to be released later with more clarity on tournaments returning to China.
In the meantime, two new WTA 250 hard court tournaments have been added in February ahead of Indian Wells, in Austin, Texas and Merida, Mexico.
“As the WTA celebrates its 50th anniversary, the 2023 calendar showcases the incredible breadth and reach of women’s tennis,” Simon said in the WTA statement on Tuesday.
“We are excited and proud to showcase our amazing events to our global audience of over 900 million fans, with tournaments in 6 continents and over 20 countries from January to early September.”
The 50th anniversary season of the Hologic WTA Tour will begin with the $15 million United Cup in Australia, a new combined team event featuring 18 nations in partnership with Tennis Australia and ATP, involving women and men players competing across Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.
In parallel, to start the season, tour events will take place in Adelaide (WTA 500) and Auckland (WTA 250), setting the stage for an exciting and historic year.
The calendar features WTA 1000 events at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, the Miami Open presented by Itaú, the Mutua Madrid Open, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Montreal, and the Western & Southern Open at Cincinnati.
At least 10 WTA 500 tournaments and 24 WTA 250 events will also take place during this time, along with an expanding WTA 125 calendar.
The season-ending WTA Finals are supposed to be held in Shenzhen, China, through 2030, but were not held at all in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then were moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2021, and to Fort Worth, Texas, this year.
Iga Swiatek, the World No 1 hit out at the poor crowd turnout in Fort Worth, which only came on board to host this the Finals in September, as well as the lower prize pot on offer at the tournament, with the WTA only able to offer $5m (£4.3m) this year without the financial support from China.
Rarely, since the founding of the WTA Tour in 1973, has the women’s game experienced as much turmoil as it has in 2022, with enormous highs and shattering lows.
“This was certainly a year filled with challenges in the women’s game,” said Pam Shriver recently, a former player who was once ranked No 3 in the world and served as the president of the WTA Tour. “Not only did we lose an anchor when the established No 1 retired [Ash Barty], but doing business hasn’t been easy in this post-Covid world.”
Barty won the Australian Open in January and became the first Aussie, man or woman, to win the title since 1978, but then, in March, the 25-year old abruptly announced her retirement, leaving the game momentarily rudderless.
She was followed by Serena Williams, who won 23 major championships over her 27-year career, after the US Open, but the 41-year old American is already hinting at a possible comeback in 2023.
Fortunately, 21-year old Swiatek moved seamlessly into the void left by Barty, dominating the tour by winning 8 titles, including the French and US Open titles.
She has told the WTA that it is time for them to find a long-term location for the WTA Finals.
“I’ve never experienced WTA Finals, like in its prime, you know, in terms of the organisation and WTA, like, not hurrying with everything, if you know what I mean,” she said. “So I would love for WTA to, kind of, settle for next year’s on one place and, actually, make it so big as it was or, maybe, as ATP has.
“But on the other hand, I’m, kind of, understanding why it happened and, from business side, is probably hard to make this kind of event, but I just think if ATP can do it, we can do it.”
Simon says he does not know where the Finals will be held in 2023, but is promising a decision ‘no later than the end of the first quarter of next year’.
“We hope that that’s where we’re going to be,” he said about Shenzhen, “but, obviously, we have some issues to resolve.”
Many say the UK could be the perfect home for the WTA Finals, thanks to the increased interest in women’s tennis on British soil following Emma Raducanu’s heroics at the 2021 US Open, and the successful Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Glasgow last week, where Team GB made an impressive run to the semi-finals, their best result in 41 years.
After the ATP Finals left its 12-year home at London’s O2 Arena for a new host city in Turin, this could well prove the ideal venue for the climax of the WTA Tour.
The Chinese issues have left the WTA Finals’ multi-million dollar deal to stage the event in Shenzhen in tatters, as the city only held the event for one year before the pandemic hit, and alternative locations had to be hastily used, leaving players with just a fraction of the $14 million (£12 million) prize pot that was offered in China.
“If it looks like we can’t go back to China, or aren’t ready to go back, then I do think we will carve out a multi-year situation, because we need to, for the business,” Simon recently told the New York Times.
“We will make our decision in the next several months about the location of the WTA Finals for next year, he told Express Sport this week. “If we are in a position to seek a new location, we welcome any discussions from interested parties in the UK, or other countries that share the passion to create an industry-leading event to showcase women’s tennis.”
An LTA spokesperson, however, told Express Sport: “There are no current plans to bid to host the WTA finals, however we remain open to opportunities to bring other major events to this country – as we have done this year with the Davis Cup Group Stage Finals and Billie Jean King Cup Finals.”
Swiatek would also like to see a women’s Laver Cup, but understands that the WTA has more important issues to focus on right now.
The Laver Cup, a Europe versus Rest-of-the-World team event that has been held since 2017 and is now part of the ATP calendar, was successfully staged this year at the O2 in London.
“The idea is great,” Swiatek says. “Generally, the more such events, the greater benefit for us because we can really diversify our sport, and show it from a slightly different perspective.
But I think that, maybe, I don’t know… I think the WTA just has other things to focus on for now, but I would love to see events like this in the future.”
Details of the remaining section of the WTA Tour calendar for next year will be communicated in due course.