The WTA concession to China — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Apr. 18, 2023

Howdy and Happy Tennis Tuesday! Last week, the WTA released the following statement announcing they were lifting their suspension of their tour events in China:

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In 2021, when Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai bravely came forward, the WTA took a stance and suspended its operation of events in China out of concern for her safety and the safety of our players and staff. When we moved forward with this decision, we were not sure if others would join us.  We received much praise for our principled stand and believe we sent a powerful message to the world. But praise alone is insufficient to bring about change. 

After 16 months of suspended tennis competition in China and sustained efforts at achieving our original requests, the situation has shown no sign of changing.  We have concluded we will never fully secure those goals, and it will be our players and tournaments who ultimately will be paying an extraordinary price for their sacrifices. 

For these reasons, the WTA is lifting its suspension of the operation of tournaments in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) and will resume tournaments in China this September.

Through our time and commitment in China over the past 20 years, the WTA has made significant progress in creating a pathway and opportunity for women athletes to pursue tennis as a career and for tennis to become a focus of recreational activity in the country.  With the suspension, we forfeited our ability to provide women in the region with opportunities to advance professionally through tennis and be role models for future generations. 

We have not been able to achieve everything we set out for, but we have been in touch with people close to Peng and are assured she is living safely with her family in Beijing.  We also have received assurances that WTA players and staff operating in China will be safe and protected while in the country. The WTA takes this commitment seriously and will hold all parties responsible.

While we do not regret our decision on the suspension, the WTA and its members feel that now is the time to return to our mission in China.  We are hopeful that by returning more progress can be made.

Peng cannot be forgotten through this process.  It is important that our renewed engagement in China provides continued safety for Peng and all the women athletes who will benefit from our return to competition and the opportunities tennis provides. It is essential that women’s voices must be heard when speaking out. The WTA will continue to advocate for Peng and the advancement of women around the world.

Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising. I discussed this pretty recently and there were two options for the WTA to consider: their wallet or their values. As it goes for women’s sports, the former talks a lot louder, to my dismay.

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WTA CEO Steve Simon took a brave stance against the Chinese, essentially being the only playmaker in athletics to have a staredown with the country that supplied a large chunk of their calendar’s money. Remember, the WTA Finals were supposed to have been held in Shenzhen for a 10-year deal that was more than lucrative. 2019 was their first and thus only edition with Ashleigh Barty receiving a sport record-breaking $4.4 million dollar prize. The event itself? 14 million.

Then COVID hit and the next year, Peng Shuai went missing after her Weibo post sharing her sexual assault claim against a high-ranking political officer. The WTA suspended operations in China for last season and their stance helped claim a title sponsorship with Hologic. However, Steve Simon said their members were ready to return to China — but were they Board of Directors? The Players? Tournament Owners? It’s no secret the players aren’t fond of the region and I wouldn’t be surprised the “Mandatory” sanction put on the Beijing WTA 1000 event won’t be upheld to let players skip without a fine or a zero point on their ranking.

Caroline Garcia, who captured Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back in 2017, former player Anne Keothavong and rising star Zheng Qinwen both agreed with the decision, noting that it’s a business and that the players themselves — who are independent contractors technically — need a full calendar to earn their living, but also to inspire and produce the next generation of players across the globe. Of course, the CVC Capital deal announced last month could also have some effect on the decision, though Steve Simon says that isn’t the case.

Ultimately, it’s super disappointing. The WTA had the COVID shutdown to help make their original decision and the first opportunity they get? The go right back to the money trail. The WTA calendar will feature at least 10 tournaments from September through November, but some of the tournaments that filled in gaps last year — such as Guadalajara, Monastir and San Diego — will also be returning.

It should be an interesting sight to see how the reaction is come September by the players and fans. I expect the WTA to give players the option to back out and many will take it. However, lots of ranking points will be on the line, so expect those close to qualifying for Shenzhen to take advantage of the 1000s in Wuhan and Beijing, specifically. Until then, on to links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers were completed this past weekend with the following matches producing our Finalists:

Turkey hosted the Czech Republic vs. Ukraine tie because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Barbora Krejcikova shared she would share her player fee to the earthquake relief efforts in Turkey.

It’s clay court time! The staff broke down things you need to know heading in.

Coco Gauff is entering the clay season without a coach, but is sticking with her dad for the time being while she figures things out.

While Garbine Muguruza extends her personal break away from the WTA, her coach Conchita Martinez announced their split:

The $1 million fine the LTA received from the ATP and WTA for banning Russians and Belarusians from their grass court tournaments and Wimbledon was officially halved.

Tracy Austin shared her opinion on the ever-changing topic of on-court coaching now that both the men and women have a more-unified approach.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame unveiled an exhibit dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the WTA.

In good news, Bianca Andreescu is back on the tennis court following her rough ankle injury in Miami:

Aryna Sabalenka enters Stuttgart as a two-time finalist, but will it be third time lucky this week?

Many collegiate programs held their Senior Day and No. 1 UNC defeated No. 4 Duke with an “unselfish” team that inserted fifth-year Sophia Patel for her contributions.

Iga Swiatek was named one of TIME’s Most Influential People of 2023.

IX Friend Sloane Stephens visited Carnival, the largest party in the Caribbean and looked fire:

Tweet of the Week

2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig retired last year and quickly took up running. She completed the Boston Marathon this past weekend and on Sunday, will run the London Marathon. Before she set a personal-best in Boston, she met fellow 2016 Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge to trade secrets on their sports

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