Who should replace Steve Simon? — Naomi Osaka comeback watch

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Dec. 19, 2023

Howdy, y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! I can’t believe it’s the last TT of the year and next time you hear from me, the 2024 season will be underway!

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(Editor’s note: this is the last Tennis Tuesday of 2023. The IX is off next week, and we return with Tennis Tuesday on Jan. 2, 2024.)

Last week, perhaps the biggest WTA news of the entire season was announced when the tour shared they are restructuring their executive office. Steve Simon, the WTA CEO and Chairman, shared that he will be relinquishing his dual role and will be Executive Chairman moving forward. After a torturous season that ended with the WTA Finals in complete disarray, it certainly isn’t the most surprising news. I said in a recent Tennis Tuesday how it would be tough for him to overcome the lack of trust stakeholders, players and fans have in him. Before the announcement, one of my off-season Tennis Tuesdays was that new leadership was a must.

The news that shocked me more was that WTA President Micky Lawler is leaving to pursue other opportunities. While Simon has been the face of the organization, Lawler has certainly been the brains on day-to-day operations. Sure, getting a title sponsor in Hologic and having CVC Capital acquire a stake in the tour have been highlights, but between handling COVID-19, Peng Shuai’s disappearance, the WTA Finals location an annual disaster and $audi Arabia ignoring human rights to buy calendar presence? It’s just too much to overcome.

With the new season rapidly approaching, I’m extremely curious who will replace Lawler as President and Simon as CEO. What I find most compelling is that the CEO will report to Simon — so he’s getting a large salary to do…what exactly? Perhaps this reorganization is a layered way to phase Simon out, I’m not sure. That being said, while I am optimistic they will stick to their word of a female hire, there are three types of people I think search firm Korn Ferry should look into for his replacement.

A former player

I think it’s super important for the next CEO to fully understand a player’s point of view. Simon himself was a professional for a quick second and played mixed doubles at Wimbledon one year. A few retirees come to mind. Roland Garros Tournament Director Amelie Mauresmo is another name that I’m sure will be tossed around, but I forsee Simon’s replacement needing to be based in the United States and with her young family and just taking over duties in Paris a couple of years ago, I can’t see that happening. Kim Clijsters is another player that has a great pulse on the current game since she did try to come back in 2020-21, but last year she was named Honorary President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Between her duties in Newport and opting into partial ownership of a pickleball franchise, I don’t see her taking on a huge, time-consuming role like this. Lindsay Davenport would probably have been one of, if not my top choice, but she recently accepted the job as Billie Jean King Cup captain for the United States and she seems perfectly content truly being behind the scenes in that capacity, on top of her TV commentating. The one name I could really see interviewing is one that might surprise you — Maria Sharapova. She has the business acumen between her own brand Sugarpova and has built quite the investment portfolio in retirement — opting into brands like Therabody, Supergoop and the UFC. Sure, she’s rarely stepped on a tennis court — something I think actually benefits her because it’s also important for someone not involved with the WTA to take over — since her retirement in 2020, but she’s always been a force off-court and I think she could use her name/image to really ramp up the WTA’s presence. Of course, I could toss in Serena Williams’ name, but lets be honest, she never really cared for the WTA as an organization as a player, so I can’t even see her taking a phone call. However, we know how I am with predictions.

Someone completely removed from tennis

I admit, here I’m not sure of many names that I could argue should take over but like I said above, someone that isn’t involved with the WTA in any current capacity should probably be a prerequisite. The WTA has always liked to promote from within and lets be real, where has that gotten us? While I would bet my life savings and more that Serena Williams would never step into an executive role, what about husband Alexis Ohanian? The Reddit co-founder has quite the history and also oversees Seven Seven Six, his venture capital firm. He also has invested in women’s sports, holding stake in Angel City FC and has been rumored to buy into other female sporting groups. Why not opt into tennis? Another name I think would be interesting is former baseball executive Kim Ng. Ng was the first female general manager for any of the country’s Big Four sports (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) when she overtook the Miami Marlins. Ng led the Marlins to the playoffs twice in recent years and if she can handle turn the tides in Miami, she definitely can improve the WTA. Someone not involved in the sport itself is likely the predictable option, especially when you see the hires for WTA Ventures.

Stacey Allaster

This might be a surprise, but I think it might be time for Stacey Allaster to come back and lead the WTA. She was at the helm until 2015, taking a job with the USTA so she could be with her family and children more and since then has transitioned into the Tournament Director role for the US Open. She knows the sport at all levels — starting as a teaching pro and then working her way up the chain at Tennis Canada before starting her WTA tenure as Chief Operating Officer, then receiving a promotion to CEO. While an Allaster-led WTA never had a title sponsor, she really helped see the tour into new sights. Between her handling the Tour’s tournament Roadmap, she also secured a huge broadcast deal with Perform and took advantage of the sport’s emerging market in China. Yes, players and fans aren’t the biggest supporters of the Asian Swing, but Allaster saw a bigger picture to help not only keep the tour afloat, but make money. Personally, I also really enjoyed Allaster’s eye for digital media and she was always current with emerging trends and markets. I would often joke that Allaster understood the importance of social media and the web, while Simon clutched onto anything old-school/analog. While her tenure wasn’t perfect, I think the WTA is in a completely different world than when she left it and I would be extremely curious to see where Allaster could take the organization. Would she only eight years after she left? Time will tell.

Onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Simona Halep’s appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be February 7-9. CAS appeals don’t factor in both of ITIA’s charges against the former World No. 1, who has severed ties with Patrick Mouratoglou and in my opinion, will be using him as a scapegoat to get her sentence reduced.

The final WTA 125 of the season was won by Cristina Bucsa, who captured both singles and doubles titles at the Open BLS de Limoges. She defeated Elsa Jacquemot in the singles final and then paired with Yana Sizikova to defeat Oksana Kalashnikova and Maia Lumsden to capture the doubles trophy.

The WTA announced the 2023 winners for their tournaments with Indian Wells, Charleston and Cluj-Napoca receiving honors.

The wtatennis.com is recapping some of the best of the best this year including quotes and trophy ceremonies.

David Kane spoke with Barbora Strycova after her final match at the US Open and it’s quite the “exit interview.”

The Elina Svitolina Foundation will be managing the Ukrainian national team over the next four years:

The Western and Southern Open shared some of their planned upgrading for the 2024 tournament that includes some high-tech additions to Center Court.

The Adelaide International will have quite the lineup that includes Jessica Pegula and Wimbledon champions Elena Rybakina and Marketa Vondrousova.

Karolina Pliskova discussed her comeback from her wrist injury, the state of the WTA and more:

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Tweet of the Week

The Comeback Watch is certainly on for Naomi Osaka, who penned to Twitter as she prepares to rejoin the WTA following maternity leave:

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon