As the world’s highest-ranked players on the women’s Tour prepare for the US Open, they still have no assurance over where they will play their final tournament of the season.
The New York Grand Slam takes place less than two months before the start of the WTA Finals which is the biggest WTA event outside of the major tournaments in terms of both prize money and ranking points on offer. In recent years a deal was signed with China to hold the event in Shanghai before officials suspended operations in the region over concerns that ex-world No.1 Peng Shuai was being censored by officials after accusing a former government official of sexual assault. In 2021 it was held in Mexico before moving to America last year.
Women’s tennis will return to China this autumn but the end-of-season showdown is not expected to take place there. To the frustration of some, officials are still trying to iron out a deal which leaves players waiting for an announcement to be made.
“We are not involved in all the discussions. I’m kind of waiting on what WTA will tell us,” World No.1 Iga Swiatek told reporters in New York on Friday.
“It would be great if the decision were made earlier. Especially when we were in Fort Worth (last year), they (the WTA) kind of assured us the decision was going to be made at the beginning of the year. It is a little bit annoying but as players, there’s nothing we can do because it’s all about business and negotiations.”
A key contender to host the event is Saudi Arabia, confirmed earlier this week as the new home of the ATP Next Gen Finals. Ubitennis understands that an offer from the country for the event has been made but negotiations are ongoing. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated journalist Jon Wertheim has claimed on social media that Prague, Czech Republic and Washington, America have also expressed interest.
Jessica Pegula, who is a member of the WTA Players Council, understands the complex topic of playing in Saudi Arabia but believes there are more positives than negatives. The Middle Eastern nation has been accused of using sport to improve its image which has been marred by allegations of multiple human rights violations.
“We’d obviously have to see there be a lot of pros overweighing the cons to feel comfortable going there, whether that’s seeing them as a group, maybe have to donate money to women’s sports or women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, to see some sort of change or action going towards helping those causes in their country,” said Pegula.
“I think that would be something really important that, if we did end up going there, we would want to see.
”I think it’s just going to have to be the right arrangement and we’re going to have to know if we go there, okay, well, we want to be making a change, and you need to help us do that.
“If that was the case, I think unfortunately a lot of places don’t pay women a lot of money, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of women’s sports, like we don’t have the luxury to say no to some things.”
Ons Jabeur is the only Arab player in history to have played at the WTA Finals. Despite the criticism of Saudi Arabia, she believes progress is being made and hosting a tennis event there could improve it further. In recent years, women have been granted the right to drive and rules regarding gender segregation in public have been scrapped. However, some activists argue that these reforms don’t go far enough with concerns raised over issues such as protection from domestic abuse.
“I know in Saudi they’re changing things and they’re evolving,” said Jabeur.
“I’ve been there last year to give a speech and interview. It was very nice meeting a lot of amazing women there.’
“I think it’s something that could help the Arab world to have more tennis players, to get more involved in sports. If they play there, and hopefully if I qualify, it will be a great honour and opportunity for me.”
It is expected that a decision on the WTA Finals will be made soon, perhaps next week. The timeline of the bidding process is something very questionable. However, one thing for certain is that the big names will appear wherever it takes place.
“Whatever decision they’re going to make, I’m happy to go,” Aryna Sabalenka commented.
Iga Swiatek Criticises WTA’s Reform Of 2024 Calendar
Iga Swiatek has hit out at the WTA by claiming that only a handful of players were made aware of changes being made to the Tour calendar before they came into effect.
In recent weeks there has been an increase in frustration among players on the women’s Tour with letters being sent to the head of the WTA, Steve Simon, about their concerns. Swiatek has also sent her own letter to the governing body. According to The Athletic, some of the concerns that have been raised relates to higher pay on the Tour, adjustments to scheduling to help support players, expanded childcare and calls for a member of the PTPA to be present on the WTA Player’s Council.
The WTA has also been in the firing line concerning their management of the Tour finals which took place in Cancun last month and was won by Switek. Some of those who took part complained about the court conditions and lack of preparation they had. The stadium court wasn’t fully constructed until the same weekend the tournament began.
Although, for the world No.1 her principle criticism concerns the 2024 calendar and the rules in place reagrding playing in mandatory events. Swiatek says some of the decisions have been made following discussions with ‘third parties’ and believes players are not being listened to.
“There is room for improvement,” she said during an interview with newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
“As players, we are dissatisfied with the calendar for next year and the increase in the number of mandatory tournaments and restrictions related to withdrawing from them.’
“We want to change this. We need more balance and time to get back home. Sometimes, however, we beat our heads against the wall. Some decisions seem to be the result of promises made to third parties, federations and tournament organizers.’
“We find out about them after the fact. This causes frustration. Only a handful of players were aware of the calendar reform and the WTA cannot lead to such a situation again, since it considers itself an organization created for tennis players.”
The 22-year-old argues that these changes would give players more time to rest and see their families. Although Swiatek admits that she is in a more fortunate situation than some of her peers from a financial perspective. This season the Pole has earned $9,857,686 in prize money this year which is more than any other female player.
“I hope that we will be able to change something – for example in the rules regarding withdrawing from tournaments,” she continued.
“Fortunately, I am in a situation where I can afford for my family to go on a trip with me, but not everyone can afford it. Many players rather save all their money to pay their coaches.’
“However, there is a difference between taking your family with you and returning home, when you can wash your clothes and spend time in the place where you grew up. I often miss Warsaw.”
Swiatek has won 68 out of 79 matches played this season, claiming six titles on the Tour. In the Grand Slams, she won the French Open, and reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the other two. She currently has a 245-point lead over second-place Aryna Sabalenka in the WTA standings.
‘A Long Way to Go’ – Iga Swiatek Must Improve A Key Element Of Her Game, Says Navratilova
Martina Navratilova has hailed Iga Swiatek’s winning end to her season but believes the Pole needs to continue working on a certain aspect of her game to become a better player.
Swiatek reclaimed the world No.1 ranking during the WTA Finals where she clinched the year-end title in Mexico. She closes out the year on an 11-match winning streak after also winning the China Open before playing at the WTA Finals. Overall, she has reached the semi-finals or better at 12 out of 17 Tour events played and has won 68 out of 79 matches during 2023. In the Grand Slams, she won the French Open, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the other two.
Now sitting at the top of the WTA rankings with a 245-point lead over second place Aryna Sabalenka, Swiatek has begun her off-season which is the period that players normally use to work on their game.
As to what she needs to work on, Navratilova believes a key issue for the four-time Grand Slam champion involves her volleying technique. Speaking to wtatennis.com, Navratilova says there is ‘still a long way to go’ for the former world No.1 but adds that she will become a more formidable player on the Tour if she makes improvements.
“The thing I’d target is getting to the net. I mean, she’s gotten better but there’s still a long way to go on the volley front, particularly that first volley — the transition volley, which is probably the most difficult shot in the game,” said Navratilova.
“I think that’s where she can improve the most. Iga still has a tendency to run back to the baseline when she really should be going forward. And if she gets that going? Watch out. She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.”
Continuing her analysis, the 67-year-old believes Swiatek can also increase the speed of her serves even more.
“She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.” She added.
Navratilova has also highlighted areas that she believes other players need to work on. In her view, Sabalenka’s goal should be to work more on her movement during matches. Meanwhile, for US Open champion Coco Gauff, the development of her forehand will play an important part in her game.
Swiatek ends the season with five WTA titles to her name.
Naomi Osaka Eager To Reclaim No.1 Spot, Says Coach
Naomi Osaka is targeting a return to the very top of the women’s game when she begins her comeback, according to a member of her team.
Performance coach Florian Zitzelsberger has told tennis.com that the four-time Grand Slam champion is ‘balanced and happy’ with herself after taking time away from the sport to give birth to her first child, a baby girl called Shai. The 26-year-old hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since the 2022 Pan Pacific Open and currently doesn’t have a ranking due to her inactivity. She has already confirmed her intention to resume her tennis career in 2024 but it is still unclear as to what her first tournament will be.
Providing a glimpse into Osaka’s current progress, Zitzelsberger says she is setting her sights on chasing after more Grand Slam titles. Zitzelsberger is the co-founder of Integralis Physiotherapie and has worked with Osaka in the past. He has also collaborated with the likes of Kevin Anderson, Julia Goerges and Petra Kvitova.
“Where she is today is what makes working with her so inspiring,” he said. “She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams. She gives me the impression of someone who is totally balanced and happy with herself. She’s very much grounded, mature and embracing the beauty of motherhood.”
In recent months there has been a growing trend of players returning to the sport after giving birth. Notable examples include Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki.
Zitzelsberger says his recent work with Osaka has been getting her back into shape and then working on certain areas of her game.
“To reach the highest performance, we start by returning stability within the kinetic chain, which is typically lost somewhat during pregnancy and birth. The kinetic chain runs through the core, stomach and belly, and for a long time, her chain wasn’t playing tennis; it was growing a baby!” He explains.
“Once that base is attained, we work on specific movement skills, whether that’s acceleration or deceleration, change of direction. The main objective is always strengthening to make the body strong, in addition to improving conditioning and mobility.”
Part of the training process has been trying to change what type of player Osaka is to adapt to the current level of the women’s Tour. After winning the 2021 Australian Open, she only reached one more Tour final which was the following year in Miami. During this period, she struggled with some injury issues and has been open about her experiences with mental health.
“She’s obviously a great offense player, but I think things have changed in the game over the last half-decade where defense is getting more and more important,” Zitzelsberger commented.
“We’re working to make Naomi into a player who can transition more effectively from defense to offense. That way, even if she’s getting pushed into a defensive position, she can still strike an offensive shot.”
Osaka has won seven WTA titles so far in her career and has earned more than $21M in prize money.
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