WTA: Where $ > human rights

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 9, 2024

Howdy y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! This week is the first week of the year with no WTA events, since Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers — for many, a final Olympic prerequisite — are taking place before the clay season heats up. Of course, what better week than this one to discuss the announcement that the next three WTA Finals will be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And don’t fret, putting the announcement after the Sunshine Double was strategic:

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It’s great the WTA announced their Finals location way ahead of time, as well as a record-breaking prize purse … but that’s it. It ends the traveling circus saga of the tour’s crown jewel that saw a last-minute event in Fort Worth in 2022 and last year’s Cancun fiasco during hurricane season.

Saudi Arabia is a country that treats its women like second-class citizens and where being gay is still a crime. Jon Wertheim made a few good points on X, specifically asking how Steve Simon and the rest of the WTA could stand up to China and pull the plug on the Finals in Shenzhen during the Peng Shuai situation, but then drool at the Saudi’s Public Investment Fund?

If anything, players were told that it doesn’t matter who you are or who you love, your price tag is about $15 million. But don’t worry — 2025 and 2026 will have higher purses! Daria Kasatkina is in contention for a spot at the Finals, sitting at No. 10. She’s the highest-ranked out tennis player in the world who has been outspoken about the tour laying in bed with the Saudis. Will the Russian actually be 100% safe if she qualifies? Sure, she would be allowed to have her girlfriend in her hotel room, but this is a country that has demonstrated doesn’t have freedom of the press. Any way they can censor a woman and/or queer person, they will.

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I spoke with a friend who is out and worked in the sport, who said he never was able to get an assignment in the Middle East and always wondered why. Not only are players going to be suspect to discomfort, but what about WTA staff, umpires, commentators (like Martina Navratilova, who helped pen an op-ed to keep the Finals from being held there last year), freelancers who help with broadcast or other services to make up the tournament? This decision affects the whole ecosystem of the tour.

It continues the conversation about how the tours operate, as well. Another Wertheim gem really had me think about who all is benefitting from this decision. Remember, Octagon and/or IMG have an extremely large stake in the WTA calendar and have influence over the Board of Directors. Truly, the reason why the WTA has been so stagnant and hasn’t evolved like other emerging sports is because of the executives running the show. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the entire c-suite at the WTA are older and white with iron-clad ties — either to one another or to agencies/other entities. If I had to guess, under-the-table kickbacks have to be fueling a lot of the decision-making that leaves most fans enraged. However, with Micky Lawler stepping down as President and Steve Simon phasing out of his role as Chairman and CEO, I’m hoping for someone diverse with their sights focused on the future, instead of padding pockets.

I have no doubt Saudi Arabia will put on perhaps the greatest WTA Finals yet produced. That’s never been the problem here. It’s that a women’s sporting organization that was founded on wanting to be seen and treated as equals, essentially accepting blood money because — dollar signs.

Onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Danielle Collins continues to dominate in her final season, winning the Credit One Charleston Open over Daria Kasatkina for her 13th consecutive win across three weeks and two surfaces. In doubles, wild cards Ashlyn Krueger and Sloane Stephens each won their first WTA doubles title, knocking out Ukrainians Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok in a match tiebreak and the reaction from both players and the crowd was fantastic.

Camila Osorio won her second Copa Colsanitas Zurich in Bogota, delighting her home crowd with an upset over top-seeded Marie Bouzkova in the final. The doubles title was won by Cristina Bucsa and Kamilla Rakhimova, who edged out Anna Bondar and Irina Khromacheva.

Maria Lourdes Carle won the biggest title of her career with a WTA 125 victory at the WTA 125 Open Internacional Femeni Solgirones in La Bisbal d’Emporda, Spain. The former Georgia Bulldog beat Rebeka Masarova to rise to a career-high ranking. The doubles crown was won by Miriam Kolodziejova and Anna Siskova via a walkover from Timea Babos and Dalma Galfi.

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Unfortunately, Charleston weather made players do something they haven’t had to do much since their junior days — two singles matches in one day.

Katie Boulter was a guest on the WTA Insider podcast and discussed her preparations for clay this year are different with the improved fitness training she’s undergone.

Charleston has seen a simultaneous rise in both the Credit One Charleston Open and hometown favorite Emma Navarro.

Leo Azarenka made his Tennis Channel debut and it was a treat:

Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki were named wildcard recipients for May’s Mutua Madrid Open.

Women’s basketball player Angel Reese singled out Serena Williams, who announced her Wyn beauty line, as one of her inspirations as she declared for the WNBA draft.

Coco Gauff signed a deal with Carol’s Daughter, a natural hair haircare line with hopes to continue uplifting Black beauty.

Jessica Pegula spoke out about Caitlin Clark’s impact on the rise of women’s basketball and how it inspires her to grow women’s tennis.

Vlada Hranchar is a name you might be hearing a lot of in the future after the Ukranian caught the attention of famous coach Rick Macci.

Tweet of the Week

As someone about to reunite with their furbaby after nearly a week apart, I loved this from Danielle Collins:

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