The WTA Finals is a mess — Quotes from Media Day — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Oct. 31, 2023

Howdy, y’all and Happy Tennis Tuesday! I normally would preview the WTA Finals — the tour’s crown jewel — but honestly, we’re two days into the round robin groups and the tennis has been pretty underwhelming. That’s largely in part because — again, honestly — the WTA is inept. The off-season I’ll discuss more of the bigger issues at hand, but for the sake of Tennis Tuesday, I’ll just break down the Finals in Cancun, which saw a return to Mexico following Guadalajara in 2021.

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While you would think the end of the year championship would be the talk of the town, with strong storylines of who can leave Cancun No. 1 or regaining certain form, the last-minute planning around the tournament’s stadium took over. When given the bid, the tournament was supposed to be held at an indoor stadium, but apparently the roof was too low, so a stadium had to be built and players were only able to practice on it the day before play started:

The stadium was completed with just enough time, but the court quality is subpar for an event of this magnitude. Maria Sakkari, who got in as an alternate when Karolina Muchova withdrew, struggled in her opening match and got her only game against Aryna Sabalenka at 0-6, 0-5 down. Add in windy weather and spurts of rain because it’s hurricane season? I mean, COME ON!

So far in singles, five of the eight sets completed have been 6-0 or 6-1. Again, these are the eight best players in the world, not me showing up at an ITF event and crossing my fingers for some mistakes. Sure, matchups are part of it, but this is the result of the tour’s executives putting their own interests before the players and putting their top tournament in a random city last-minute with less money for the third consecutive year.

If tonight’s play ends up with yet another straight-set match — so far, all singles and doubles matches have been in two — I wouldn’t be surprised if players band together to perhaps halt play. Sabalenka, Marketa Vondrousova and Iga Swiatek have all publicly complained about the tour — not the tournament or Mexico, in general. It’s not the organizers or Cancun’s fault the WTA can’t manage themselves.

Yesterday, it came out that over a dozen players signed a letter to the tour’s executives expressing their concern with the rollout of the WTA Finals, as well as compensation, injury leave and more:

A reckoning for the WTA could soon be coming sooner than later. Players were in China less than a week ago and had to fly back to Mexico after being there a month ago and many will hop on a plane to Spain this weekend for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals. The WTA consistently doesn’t put their players first, instead focusing on padding pockets of agencies that simply just benefit a small inner circle. The Czech Republic gave the WTA a handsome offer, but because of the uncertainty of Russian/Belarussian athletes being allowed in and a lack of a 5-star hotel, the WTA Player’s Council voted on going to Cancun — who offered nearly half of Ostrava.

It’s always one thing after the other and the players are simmering at the moment — the Finals bid process, the stadium, even the player photo shoot wardrobe guidelines switching last-minute and essentially singling out Swiatek. We’re a good .2 seconds from the pot overflowing, which the Professional Tennis Players Association — a separate player-owned and focused union — might be able to use to their advantage.

Cancun will be a one-time occurrence and unfortunately, the WTA will grovel to Saudi Arabia because that’s where most of the money resides. It doesn’t matter if an openly gay player is unwelcomed or threatened there, the tour basically needs the money because they’re bleeding — even with CVC Capital Partners investments.

It’s an extremely slippery slope and something that we all should have some close eyes on in the off-season. Things truly look like they’re just getting started.

That being said, treat yourself to some Halloween candy while you devour the links below!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Beatriz Haddad Maia overcame Zheng Qinwen in two tiebreakers to win the WTA Elite Trophy, but also teamed up with Veronika Kudermetova to win the doubles crown over Miyu Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi.

*ichigan alum Emina Bektas broke into the Top 100 after capturing her first WTA 125 title over Anna Kalinskaya at the Abierto Tampico. The doubles title went to Kamilla Rakhimova and Anastasia Tikhonova, who upset top seeds Heather Watson and IX Friend Sabrina Santamaria.

The impact of having the WTA Finals in Cancun is extremely significant to IX Friend Giuliana Olmos, who hopes to see Mexican tennis use the tournament’s momentum in their favor.

Another IX Friend, Gaby Dabrowski, and partner Erin Routliffe were profiled about their recent partnership that started in the summer and resulted in a US Open title and WTA Finals berth.

Laura Pigossi and Maria Carle sealed berths into next year’s Olympic Games by reaching the finals of the Pan-American Games this past week in Chile.

After a tough season that still resulted in a WTA Finals berth, Ons Jabeur opens up about the roller coaster of a year.

The WTA’s Coach Inclusion Program is making it’s way through North America with an emphasis on fostering and training more female coaches in the game.

Wimbledon finally got a grounds expansion plan approved, which will see qualifying held at the grounds and a total of 38 additional courts by 2030.

Carla Suarez Navarro will be honored by the WTA’s ACEing Cancer campaign with a research grant named after her.

Unsurprisingly, Simona Halep submitted her appeal to be heard to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in her fight against the 4-year doping ban she received.

Anett Kontaveit won the Luxembourg Ladies Masters, a WTA 250-turned-retiree exhibition, defeating Andrea Petkovic in the final.

With the Billie Jean King Cup Finals approaching, Peter Bodo discusses it’s future.

She’s been on a stamp, but Althea Gibson will take it one further and be commemorated in the 2025 edition of the U.S. quarter.

Angelique Kerber will be coming back at the United Cup next year, but her WTA return will be set in Adelaide.

Tweet of the Week

Midland, Michigan always brings out a local crowd that’s almost unlike any other and I love that local elementary kids get to witness the WTA 125 event during school.

Eight at The IX: WTA Finals Media Day

Q. For you, in terms of coming into the season, you’ve talked about how different you felt with everything you had accomplished last year, the expectations that that can obviously create from the outside. Maybe from the inside, too, but definitely from the outside, how people interpreted your level throughout the year. How difficult was that? Did you find that the expectations at some point from the outside looking at you were, I don’t know, unfair in a lot of ways? You talked about dropping a set, and people would panic.

IGA SWIATEK: Yeah, for sure sometimes I felt like it’s just kind of ridiculous because people got used to me winning. It’s not like it’s going to happen all the time. So I think this season was kind of more normal, I would say, like most of the seasons we play, for even the top players.

I think the main thing that I want to avoid is forgetting that this was also a good season and I still won some great tournaments. I won a Grand Slam, so…

For sure, comparing everything to 2020, I can kind of tell you pretty confidently that I may not have a season like that again, but I’m going to do my best.

For sure the expectations from the outside, it was the thing that really sometimes stopped me this season. I’m going to work on not letting it stop me this time.

Q. There’s a lot of injuries going around. People are talking about many things, tennis balls. You’ve proven to be extraordinarily durable the last couple of years. You don’t travel with a full-time physio.


Q. Do you have a secret sauce you can spread to everybody?

JESSICA PEGULA: If it’s working so well for me, I don’t want to share it (smiling).

No, I don’t know. It’ll so funny because early in my career, I’ve said this before, I was the exact opposite. I was not durable. I was not stable. I was not consistent. Those were nothing… If you looked up me in the dictionary, none of those words would have been used to describe me at all.

It’s amazing how I’ve been able to overcome that, I guess figure things out. Of course, I always wanted to be, but I think I’m just a lot smarter in my approach to my preparation and my recovery.

I know there’s a lot of injuries now. I did deal with a lot of injuries in my early 20s. At the same time I feel like it balances itself out. There were a lot of years where I felt like I didn’t really ever play a full season. I know some girls experience that now. I think all of us at some point usually go through a really tough injury or a tough couple injuries, tough years.

I don’t know. I mean, I know everyone thinks I’m durable now. It’s only been a couple years. There’s very many years early on in my career where I was not injury-free. Maybe it’s kind of balancing itself out, which is, I don’t know, good I guess. I’m glad I figured it out before it was too late (laughter).

Q. You mentioned about being grateful to be here. How much do you feel like you are playing with kind of house money here this week? Related to that, you talked a lot in the last couple of months about playing with joy, playing with a smile on court. How much has that helped you, not just in Guadalajara but through the finish of the season?

MARIA SAKKARI: I mean, that was the key. That was the reason why I think I positioned myself in the best possible spot to be the number one alternate, then eventually get the last spot.

I just feel like, yes, the crowd loves me here, and I love them, too. I’ve said it many times: there’s a special connection. This week is like a celebration for me. I’m grateful to be here, to be competing again in the Finals because three times in a row is I think a great achievement.

I’m just going to go out there and enjoy. It will be amazing to win the whole thing, that’s my ultimate goal, of course, but I don’t want to think of win or lose. I just want to feel like, you know what, I was given that great opportunity, and I just make the most out of it.

Q. This year you won four titles, including a Grand Slam. At this point have you reflect what you achieve at such young age?

COCO GAUFF: Yes and no. I feel like sometimes I tend to look towards the next thing. When we’re in season, it’s tough to reflect all of the time. After this last tournament, I think we’ll have enough time to reflect and be proud of all the things I’ve done, but also look for improvement on how I can do even better.

Q. Your season, obviously a career-best season, No. 1, Grand Slam, also some heartbreaking losses along the way. Almost at the end of the season, can you reflect on this year? What does this season mean to you? What do you think about when you think about the 2023 season for you?

ARYNA SABALENKA: I’m thinking this is really crazy. I wish I would know earlier that I actually can play that good (laughter).

Yeah, it’s just super great season, I think the best season in my life so far. Hopefully, like, this is just the beginning: with every year I’ll play better and better and the results will be better and better.

I use this year as a motivation for me to keep working hard, to keep pushing, and see where is my limit are.

Q. When you look back on your career, you said no one expected for you to be here a few months ago, but what was the lowest part of the last few years, the injuries, not being able to sustain? Can you tell us what was the worst moment so we can recognize how big this moment is?

MARKETA VONDROUSOVA: Yeah, I mean, I played great tennis before the surgeries, then I had to stop for, like, six months. That’s never easy. Then coming back to the top level, it’s never easy. You never know what’s going to happen, how you’re going to play.

Yeah, for me, I think the second one was a bit better ’cause I know what to expect. But, I mean, overall it’s very tough to stop when you’re playing good tennis.

I feel like that was for me the tough part.

Q. Could you say this was a difficult season? If you could grant a wish for the next season, what could it be?

ONS JABEUR: I win Wimbledon, that final. I should have won it. I think that’s easy wish (smiling).

Good enough or you want more wishes? I get three?

Q. You get three.

ONS JABEUR: The first would be Wimbledon. The second wish is my knee would be better because I struggle with my knee a lot. The third would be the stadium ready on Wednesday.

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