WTA Finals will be bigger, longer and have more fringe events
After a bumper turnout of 129,000 fans at the inaugural tournament in 2014, the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore is set to be bigger this year.
And for the subsequent three years.
Women's tennis' prestigious season-ending event, which was held at the Singapore Sports Hub's Indoor Stadium last October, witnessed a record attendance over seven days, and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), Stacey Allaster, labelled it the best Finals in history.
This year's edition will be expanded to eight days - from seven last year - and will continue to feature the WTA Legends Classic, WTA Rising Stars Invitational and WTA Future Stars competitions.
Held from Oct 19 to 26, the competition format will start on a Sunday and encompass two weekends, and more lifestyle entertainment events are being planned even just before the tennis action is served up on court.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Allaster revealed they were looking at building on last year's success.
"The first year was just exceptional and the report card is full with a lot of A+," said Allaster, who flew in from Melbourne after the Australian Open.
"We are all very ambitious to build upon last year's success and make it even better for our fans. We are not resting on what we achieved.
"There are minor things to tweak operationally, like figuring out the right lighting in the building, but that's all normal after the first year.
"Now we're looking at what can we do that more of our fans will want."
The WTA Finals features the top eight women in the world doing battle, and last year's event also featured, for the first time, the eight leading doubles pairs competing for honours.
World No. 1 Serena Williams, the newly crowned Australian Open women's singles champion, won here last year while Cara Black and Sania Mirza were victorious in the doubles event.
Juxtaposing the WTA Finals with Formula 1's Grand Prix here, Allaster said plans are in place to add more high-profile concerts during the event, with the aim of making tennis in Singapore more of a sports entertainment experience.
RAISE THE BAR
"Our responsibility each year is to raise the bar," said the 51-year-old Canadian, who has been the head of the WTA since 2009.
"What are new and different things we can do to excite the fans and give them another reason, besides these world-class athletes, to come. That is why the Formula 1 has been so successful here.
"We are also looking at having our athletes be more engaged with the community,"
"One of the reasons we have an office in Singapore is that we wanted to live and work here; we didn't want to be an event that comes here for two weeks and leaves," she added.
"We are now invested in Singapore and want to use the power of the WTA Finals to inspire youth to play tennis, and that ultimately is the objective of these Finals and the legacy we want to leave."
The WTA is expanding its "Junior Road To Singapore" tournament invitations from 12 to 18 countries, allowing promising Under-14 and U-16 girls an opportunity to represent their countries at this year's Future Stars event.
Introduced at last year's tournament, the WTA Future Stars event features top junior players from the Asia-Pacific region, who will have the opportunity to experience the world of women's professional tennis.
Allaster acknowledged that the women's Tour could do with more Asian talent, especially after Li Na's retirement last year, but said: "Sport development systems take a long time. It takes decades for the momentum and the foundations of the system to be in place.
"Having the WTA Finals in Singapore is all about sport development (and) we created the WTA Future Stars event to find a diamond in the rough, in a market that we (previously) never went to.
"We have 22 events in the Asia-Pacific now, and a bona fide swing for Asian tennis players to compete against the world's best. The locals get the wild card (entries) which breeds a system of confidence and a stair-stepped approach.
"That is one big part of it, and then there is the coaching. You need the technicians and those who have worked with champions or have been champions to help get there.
"In a sport development system, you need to bring those coaches to this part of the world. We had a coaches' summit here at the WTA Finals last year, where the coaches get to learn from the greats, like Martina Navratilova and Marion Bartoli, and we are doing it again this year.
"So it's a long journey, it's not a sprint."