So. Here we are. The final day of Round Robin play at the 2013 WTA Championships has concluded. Li Na took out a hobbled Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova took out Angelique Kerber in a fun three-setter, and Sara Errani took out Jelena Jankovic and her eternal cold.
The knock-out semifinals begin tomorrow, with Serena facing JJ and Petra facing Li. In less than two days we’ll have a Champion of this tournament, and we’ll be saying goodbye to Istanbul. And then, just like that, the 2013 WTA season is over. (Except for Sofia. And Fed Cup. And WTA 125s. Ugh.)
I love the WTA Championships, but this tournament doesn’t feel like it’s really kicked into gear this year–I really think that a burned-out Azarenka took away some of the shine. But luckily the four remaining semifinalists all have what it takes to push each other, so here’s to hoping for three entertaining clashes this weekend.
But we all know that the end-of-the-year festivities are about more than just the matches. It’s a chance to take the temperature of the WTA tour as a whole, celebrate the athletes, and make plans for the future. To kick off the event–after the draw ceremony and PICTURES–Stacey Allaster gives a “State of the WTA” speech to the media. You can read the entire thing here, but I’ve extracted some of the best parts below, and added my own thoughts to them as well.
Because sometimes we all just want to be heard.
(All of Stacey’s quotes are in blockquotes. Everything else you can blame on me.)
I’m the luckiest woman in the world to represent the best female athletes for the past 40 years. It really is quite an honor.
This 2013 40‑Love celebration had been about paying tribute to those that have built the WTA. We started with of course the Original Nine, these nine women who stood up to the establishment and said it wasn’t right that the men should be paid 12,000 and the women were only receiving 2,000. They set the journey and the course for change.
But then Billie took it one step further and took on the challenge of playing Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match.
I’m in tennis, and I thought I knew the story. But I must tell you this year has been such an educational year for me personally to learn more about how hard it was to be a woman in 1973, how hard it was for Billie, and the weight of the world that she had on her shoulders and the significance of what a tennis match was where it did change the lives of women forever.
Serena talked about Billie giving her and all the players an opportunity to play tennis. I truly believe, had it not been for the Original Nine, had it not been for Billie beating Bobby Riggs, had it not been for the 40 years of the WTA, there wouldn’t be a chance for a Stacey Allaster, a female, to be a CEO of a world‑governing body. So, like Serena, I too am incredibly appreciative of that lady who we honor with this trophy.
So, with that, I think it’s incredibly important in my job to not let this generation or the generations that come again to not forget 1973 and the years that have followed.
So we kicked off our 40Love celebration in Australia, another tribute at Roland Garros, and part of our strategy was to bring back all of the WTA players throughout the year. This is their WTA. They helped build it. We wanted them to be part of the celebration.In New York, we lit up the Empire State Building in honor of our 40th anniversary, and again, in honor of the USTA leading the way with 40 years of equal prize money.
And then in London during Wimbledon we had this incredible special afternoon. It was sunny on Wimbledon that day, just a glorious day where 23 women, who have held the world No. 1 ranking, we had 19 of them together onstage sharing their stories. It was magic for those that were there. What we took away from that was that there’s so much storytelling that these incredible champions have that we’re going to do a much better job going forward at sharing that with the fans, because that was just a sneak peek of what we think we could offer everyone.
Hell. Yes. The history of the WTA is so amazing and inspiring, and it’s important that none of us ever forget it. It’s been so much fun as a fan of the sport to watch the 40Love celebrations throughout the year, and constantly be reminded that the WTA tour–now the leading sport for women in the world–had to be fought for.
There needs to be even more of this, and I’m glad that Stacey seems interested in continuing to promote these stories. I mean, does any other professional sports league have this inspiring of a backstory? It should be shouted from the rooftops 24-7.
I also think it’s important that Stacey pointed out that the trail that Billie Jean King and the rest of the Originals paved had an impact in society that was much bigger than just the sport of tennis. I truly do believe that every glass ceiling that is broken is a victory for all of us, and creates a ripple effect of change.
Istanbul, absolutely a record Championships for the WTA. With 54 broadcasters, over a thousand hours will go out this week to 170 countries. In 2011 when we started here, we had approximately 17 million fans consume the TEB BNP Paribas WTA champions, whether it be broadcast, online, mobile. Last year we had 42 million, and I’m very certain that my team will deliver 50, 60 million of fans who will watch either online, on air, or on their mobile devices the 2013 edition.
Whoa…are these numbers accurate? I mean, I have to assume that they are and that you can’t just make up things like that to sound good. That’s pretty impressive growth.
I think those of us that follow tennis week in, week out, we love it. We are in a moment of greatness with Serena Williams, and it’s not just me saying it. The greats are saying it. A couple of recent interviews that Billie and both Chris gave and talked about Serena: If Serena keeps going, she’s going to be the greatest player ever to have lived. I’m a big believer in that every generation gets better, but Serena should be, could be the best that’s ever lived. Billie Jean King.
Chris Evert: I think she’s the greatest player that we have ever seen up until this point. Nobody has had the power and the shots and the serve and the complete package that she has, so she’s the best tennis player.
Last night, I must tell you, I was pretty pleased when I heard two things from Serena: I love this sport, and I don’t want to retire. (Laughter.)
Bless her that she stays healthy. She’s in her moment. I know every time that we all get to watch her it’s a great gift that she’s giving to us and to her fans.
Okay, so I’m the type of person who as a whole enjoys parity more than dominance, but over the past few years of tennis watching, I’ve learned to just lean back and appreciate greatness while it’s here. And Serena is a gift, she really is. She’s completely in Another League right now, and she’s more dangerous than ever because of her newfound dedication. She’s in Federer 2004-2007 Untouchable Mode. This can’t last forever. She’s 32 and at some point age and match play will catch up to her–she has played *a lot of tennis* this year. As superhuman as she seems, she is a mortal. There will be a day in the not-so-distant future where Serena Williams isn’t quite Serena Williams anymore. And then there will be a time when Serena Williams isn’t playing tennis at all anymore. So let’s just enjoy it while it lasts, even if it is sometimes at the expense of unpredictability and competitiveness.
To a young Vika. This is a tough year for her, but she stood up and she delivered. 2012 wasn’t an accident. And being able to defend in Australia, that too was another watershed moment for her. It’s feel‑the‑pressure on Vika throughout those Championships. I think she’s had a fantastic year. She’s pushed Serena. The rivalry is happening, and it makes for a great 2014.
Gosh, it’s really hard to quantify Vika’s year, isn’t it? I mean…it certainly was a successful one. She defended the Australian Open, beat Serena Williams twice, made the French Open semifinals, and fought so hard in that great U.S. Open final. She won three titles–AO, Doha, and Cincy. But it seems like her whole year has been marred with injuries and controversy. There was MTO-gate in the AO semifinals, and then she hurt her ankle in Doha, withdrew mid-tournament from Indian Wells, and then missed Miami as well. She didn’t come back until the end of the clay season, where she looked out of shape and rusty. But she played herself into shape and made her first French Open semifinals, even pushing Sharapova to the brink in their semifinal.
Then she injured her hip in her first match at Wimbledon and pulled out before the second-round match. She came back for the U.S. Open series, but she didn’t look comfortable at all. Still, she managed to win Cincy and make the U.S. Open final. Since then, she’s gone 1-4 to end the year, dealing with a virus in Tokyo and now a back injury at the WTA Championships. A year that started with a bang really ended with a whimper, and it’s hard to figure out what this all means.
Vika is so tough when she puts her blinders on–she’ll literally will herself to win matches, chase down balls, guide her weak serve in, and ignore the criticism. But behind the blinders is an incredibly fragile girl who is very much still trying to grow up and find herself, and she’s doing it all under a harsh and unforgiving spotlight while also trying to challenge one of the legends of the game. It’s pretty all or nothing with Vika emotionally, and those highs and lows must just be exhausting.
This fall we saw it all catch up to her. It was so sad to watch her out there on court against Li Na, refusing to listen to her body and retire from a match that she couldn’t compete in, choking back tears and barely even able to will herself to take a step. She was a shell of the player that we saw shut out the world to take the title in Australia.
My hope is that as she grows up she’ll be able to find a happy medium that will allow her to stay consistent throughout the years without the burnout. My fear is that if she doesn’t, we could have another early-ish retirement. Hopefully the offseason will do her good.
Okay, so Stacey talked about how exciting the next generation of stars were, but she didn’t say anything else about the others competing at the WTA Championships. I’m going to have more thoughts on this throughout the off-season, but I wanted to quickly point out what a strange year it was in the WTA. There were very few cohesive narratives throughout the 10 months. Serena’s ankle injury limited her impact at the Australian Open and got in the way of what would have been a must-see Vika/Serena *semifinal* in Oz. Meanwhile, on the other half of the draw, Li Na routined Radwanska and Sharapova to fly into the final, where, had it not been for a couple of bad falls, she might have won her second Grand Slam title. As it was, she injured her ankle in that match, and was off of the tour until Miami, and hardly a factor again until the U.S. Open series.
Then Sharapova made it to Wimbledon having, despite the loss to Li in Australia, only lost to Serena Williams all year. But then her hip injury and second-round loss to Larcher de Brito derailed her for the rest of the year. Sigh. Azarenka did become a rival for Serena, but we’ve already mentioned how up and down her season was. The Lisick/Bartoli Wimbledon final seems more like a dream every day. Radwanska never fully recovered from her heartbreaking loss to Lisicki in the Wimbledon semifinals.
Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber didn’t rediscover their top form until the end of the year, and were especially disappointing at majors this year. (Their match today was pretty fun, and as I mentioned on Twitter, the WTA would have been so much more fun this year if they’d both found that form earlier.) Sara Errani impressively backed up her breakout year in 2012, but never got anywhere close to finding an extra gear that would threaten the top dogs.
Perhaps, more than anything, this year was about the rebirth of Jelena Jankovic, the Glitter that has been missing in all of our lives for the past few years. I have no clue how we survived without her.
On the business side, presented to the board in 2010 a three‑year business plan. As we come to the end of that business plan, 2011, ’12, ’13, my team has been able to contract just over $200 million of revenues for women’s tennis.
In 1973, nobody believed women’s tennis would be commercially successful. $200 million in contract with our largest TV deal in our history, the largest Championships deal in our history, new assets being generated with being data content licensing, new tournaments, and new sponsors. Not only did every girl have an opportunity to play women’s tennis if she had the right, that sponsors and cities have stepped up to invest in women’s tennis.
This is all exciting–but I’m greedy and I want more! In her address, Stacey talked at length about the sponsorship situation with the WTA, and how they are going about filling the whole that was left when Sony Ericsson dropped out. Of course, at the beginning of the year Xerox came on board, and they have done a wonderful job producing the WTA Live events all year long, another fun way to promote the WTA. In August, they announced the exciting new deal with SAP, which sounds like it has the potential to revolutionize the stats game in women’s tennis.
Still, the WTA needs more sponsors. Stacey seems confident that they’ll have another huge sponsor by this time next year. I certainly hope so.
Turkey took us to this level, and now Singapore plans to take us to another level. A year ago I was here sharing with you the finalist candidate cities for the 2014 Championships. In April a passionate delegation from Singapore traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida, and they delivered truly the most incredible presentation to our board that on a hands‑down our choice was Singapore.
Why? Our confidence in their delivery with their infrastructure, their proven ability to stage world‑class events, whether it be the Formula 1 or Junior World Olympics. We have tremendous trust, respect, we like them, you all get a chance to meet them. There is a small group coming at the end of the week. A few are here today with us. They are just an incredible nation that will use our Championships, our athletes, to once again inspire more little boys and girls to play our sport.
I’m going to give you a sneak peek. This is not final. But how will the Championships change? Here, Istanbul we will start on Tuesday and be a six‑day event. In 2014, we will have seven days of tennis starting on Monday night. In addition, we will add four doubles teams, so we will be like the men’s Masters. We will have the top eight singles players and the top eight doubles teams.
In addition, we will add new events to the Championships format. Those events will take place most likely on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday leading into the Championships. We are working on this concept, but most likely it will be an invitational of rising stars, where those players who are on the cusp of making it to the Championships, those I introduced earlier, will play at an invitational.
We want to bring the WTA former champions back to their Championships. Will that be two, four, a Legends event? We’re working on that, but the great news is that we will bring our former greats back to their Championships. There will be pro‑ams for our corporate partners. The practice courts will be open to the public. And we will fully integrate the community and entertainment into these Championships.
In the new sports hub, the national stadium, there will be a concert on that opening weekend to celebrate the season, and there will be a fan fest for the full ten‑day Championships open for free so that our Championships will be accessible to everyone. As you can imagine, the fan fest will have all of those interactive activities to get racquets in kids’ and adults’ hands to promote our sport and have more people playing.
From the player perspective, there will be a party. Actually, there will be most likely two parties. There will be a draw party like we had last night, and we will reintroduce the year‑end party that we previously had in Madrid and that we had in Qatar. That most likely will be at the end either on the Saturday or the Sunday.
In addition, there will be industry conferences, whether sports marketing, women in leadership, sports science and medicine, coaching. The good news is we have five years of programming to fill, and what we want to be able to do is bring all of the industry to this season finale and this massive celebration of women’s tennis throughout 10 to 11 days.
For 2015, I will give you insight into our thoughts. The board will approve this in December, I’m quite certain. We will become an eight‑day Championships, Sunday to Sunday, and we will then adopt the full schedule that the men have where our athletes can play day on, day off. With the competitions being so tough, 6.5 million on offer this year, 7 million next year, the ranking points, everything that’s at stake, we need to give the athletes a day on, day off, just like they have at the Grand Slams and just like they have at our mandatory events. We believe that will produce our best product and give our athletes the best opportunity to perform on that stage.
YOU GUYS. THIS IS SUCH GREAT NEWS. I have nothing snarky to say. This all sounds wonderful. More doubles. More time. MORE AWESOME.
Okay, so this has gotten insanely long for a blog, but instead of leaving on that 100% positive note, I thought I’d just leave this here. Keep working on this, Stacey. It’s mega important:
Q. My question is about TV coverage mostly. I know obviously with Perform the number of matches that have been aired have been much bigger at a lot of tournaments. I’m wondering, at some of the combined events, it feels like sometimes the number of matches has slipped behind the number of men’s matches at like Indian Wells, Cincinnati, combined tournaments like that. I’m just wondering what you’re doing to try to address that and make that more level in the future.
STACEY ALLASTER: Good question. At our combined events there is a minimum standard, and everyone has met their minimum standards. Obviously the goal is to get more. With Perform now having a production model, and they will come in and produce a secondary court, we are working through the growing pains predominantly in the U.S. tournaments.
We didn’t have that issue in Madrid. Perform came in and produced a second court.
I do know Indian Wells is currently working with Perform, and Indian Wells is looking to having four courts. Don’t want to get ahead of ourselves with Indian Wells, but they are looking to dramatically increase the number of matches that will come out of Indian Wells. We need to do the same in Miami, and we need to work on Cincinnati.
I’m excited to see what the next five years brings for the WTA. Barring a mid-2000s spate of injuries and early retirements, I think that this could all build into something really, really special. And when all else fails, at least we have JJ.