Singapore has been selected to host the season-ending WTA Championships from 2014 through 2018, offering a record $6.5 million in prize money.
“This is the largest and most significant WTA Championships partnership in our history,” WTA CEO and chairman Stacey Allaster said. “It’s a record-breaker.”
Despite not hosting a top-level tennis event since the ATP’s Heineken Cup in 1999, Singapore beat Tianjin, China, and Monterrey, Mexico, for the opportunity to host the championships for five years after the tournament wraps up its successful three-year stint in Istanbul this October. Serena Williams won it last year.
Here are the highlights from the WTA’s announcement:
• The tournament will take place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, a 12,000 capacity indoor venue that the WTA hopes to reconfigure to accommodate 9,000 to 10,000 seats. The Indoor Stadium is part of the $1 billion Singapore Sports Hub, which is currently under construction on the original site of the National Stadium.
• The field will once again include the top eight singles players, but in a much-needed change the doubles field will include the top eight teams, a bump from the current limit of four teams.
• The tournament has been expanded to a 10-day “international celebration,” which will include seven days of competition, upped from its current five-day format.
• The expanded format will include a WTA Future Stars event that will highlight the juniors, WTA Legends exhibition, concerts, coaches and trade symposiums, Women in Business Leadership Conference and daily fan festivals open to the public to allow fans who do not have tickets to get up close to the players. The WTA intends to take advantage of the entire Singapore Sports Hub to host all the non-competition events.
• With the addition of the WTA Championships in Singapore, the Asia/Pacific region will lead the tour for the first time with 23 events, more than any other region.
There’s a lot to like about the choice of Singapore. The five-year deal offers more stability (Istanbul was just three-years), and the expanded format to include exhibitions like the WTA Future Stars program sound particularly fun. Organizationally, Singapore will be a simpler gambit compared to Istanbul and Doha where red tape — both administrative and cultural — complicated things behind the scenes.
My biggest question is whether Singapore will be able to match the Istanbul crowds in both numbers and energy. Reuters reports lower-level challenger events and exhibitions have struggled to draw crowds, though none of those events have the star power that the WTA Championships would bring, particularly if Williams and Maria Sharapova are in the mix. Sharapova played an exhibition in Singapore in 2007 at the Indoor Stadium in front of a near-capacity crowd. Let’s hope this iteration of the WTA Championships is more like the electric showcase in Istanbul and less like the scarcely attended embarrassment of Doha.