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WTA Finals to be held in Saudi Arabia from 2024-2026

The WTA said its agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation will offer record prize money of $15.25m this year with further increases in 2025 and 2026

Update : 05 Apr 2024, 01:11 AM

The season-ending Women's Tennis Association Finals will be held in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh from 2024-2026, the women's tennis body said Thursday, ending months of speculation and marking the Gulf country's latest foray into the sport.

Riyadh will host the season finale - which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams - from November 2-9 and replaces last year's hosts Cancun, Mexico.

The WTA said its agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation will offer record prize money of $15.25m this year with further increases in 2025 and 2026.

"To have a women's tournament of this magnitude and profile is a defining moment for tennis in Saudi Arabia. The WTA Finals has the power to inspire far beyond the sport, especially for our young girls and women," the Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud told Reuters.

Talk that the event could be shifted to Saudi Arabia had intensified after the men's Association of Tennis Professionals Tour said last August its Next Gen Finals would be held in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027.

"The WTA selected Riyadh following a comprehensive evaluation process over several months, which has included assessment of multiple bids from different regions and engagement with players," it said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sports like football, Formula One and golf in the last few years while critics accuse the kingdom of using its Public Investment Fund to "sportswash" its human rights record.

The country denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.

'NEW OPPORTUNITY'

WTA chief Steve Simon said last year that Saudi Arabia presented "big issues" as a host for women's tour events but also acknowledged the progress it had made and continued to engage with players.

"Bringing the WTA Finals to Riyadh is an exciting new opportunity for us and a positive step for the long-term growth of women's tennis as a global and inclusive sport," Simon said.

"We've been impressed by the commitment shown by the STF to grow the sport at all levels."

World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Caroline Wozniacki said at the Australian Open that engagement offered the chance to spark positive change.

There has been pushback from within the game with greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova saying the WTA's values were in stark contrast to those of Saudi Arabia and holding the event there would not represent progress but "significant regression".

But the country's ambassador to the United States Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud said the criticism represented stereotypical and western-centric views.

SHIFTED FROM SHENZHEN

The tournament was looking at a long future in Shenzhen, China, when the WTA held the 2019 edition of the Finals there with a prize pot of $14m after the Asian city saw off rival bids to secure a 10-year deal.

However, China's response to the COVID pandemic forced the event to be cancelled the following year and it was shifted to Guadalajara, Mexico in 2021.

It did not return to Shenzhen in 2022 as expected after the WTA suspended its billion-dollar business in China amid concerns over the treatment of former doubles No 1 Peng Shuai.

The WTA eventually resumed operations in China last year.

Fort Worth, Texas hosted the 2022 tournament, drawing sparse crowds and the WTA was expected to shift it to Saudi Arabia last year before naming Cancun as the venue less than two months from the start.

That edition was criticised by Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who said that she felt "disrespected" by the standard of organization, prompting Simon to send a letter to players admitting the event was "not perfect".

The Belarusian had said she would be happy to play the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia after an "amazing experience" during an exhibition match in Riyadh late last year where she took on Tunisian Ons Jabeur.

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