WTA Finals, a Nomadic Tournament, Lands in Mexico

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A last-minute woody brings the lawsuit to Guadalajara. But what astir that altitude?

Karolina Pliskova successful  2019. She volition  play   successful  the WTA Finals for the 5th  consecutive  year.
Credit...Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nov. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

After 2 decades of wandering the globe, the WTA Finals had yet recovered a home, oregon truthful it seemed successful 2019.

That was the archetypal twelvemonth the finals were held, to large fanfare, successful Shenzhen, China, nether a woody that would support the tourney determination for 10 years.

The lawsuit has not been backmost since, and connected Wednesday it volition alternatively beryllium played successful Guadalajara, Mexico, aft an statement successful September.

The tournament, which has been played nether antithetic names implicit the years, has agelong been a spot nomadic. It was held astatine Madison Square Garden from 1979 to 2000 and has moved 5 times from 2001 to 2013. It past spent 5 years successful Singapore.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of past year’s tournament, the archetypal clip it had not been held since the finals began astir 50 years ago, erstwhile the finals were called the Virginia Slims Championships.

This year, with the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, that means immoderate players volition beryllium competing successful 1 of the biggest tournaments extracurricular of the Grand Slams successful the 3rd antithetic metropolis successful the past 3 finals.

“I personally don’t attraction if the determination changes each year; it’s ever breathtaking to beryllium capable to vie successful the event,” said Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who qualified 3 times from 2015 to 2017 and is 1 of the 8 players invited to play singles this year.

For months, the WTA planned a instrumentality to Shenzhen, portion having parallel discussions with different cities, including Hong Kong.

“Knowing the concern was little than clear, we had a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C,” said Micky Lawler, the WTA president. “We wanted to springiness our apical players a accidental to vie the mode they deserved to extremity 2021, but putting connected events is truly pugnacious during a pandemic, and circumstances support changing and are retired of your control.”

The circuit ended up going with Plan D: Guadalajara.

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Credit...Dean Lewins/EPA, via Shutterstock

“It’s precise hard to program an lawsuit astatine this scale, and they offered a large solution successful a marketplace wherever we already had a tournament,” Lawler said, referring to the lower-level tourney held determination successful March. (The No. 1 effect was 46th-ranked Nadia Podoroska of Argentina.)

The WTA was impressed by the squad that ran that tournament, but besides determination was nary Plan E, Lawler said. “This wasn’t a concern of ‘Let’s take betwixt places,’” she said. “It was, ‘We don’t privation a 2nd twelvemonth successful a enactment without a WTA Finals, truthful let’s enactment each our resources unneurotic and marque this work.’”

Lawler said that Steve Simon, the WTA main executive, was moving play committee meetings and that the circuit held changeless discussions with the players and the sponsors. “Everyone’s cognition was that this was not what we planned for, but they would enactment it due to the fact that it was amended than nary tournament.”

While Lawler is definite that determination volition beryllium challenges — she points to a abrupt Covid-related lockdown that started during a caller tourney successful Moscow — she is assured that they volition beryllium surmountable. Many of the players are surely anxious for the tournament, adjacent if determination are obstacles. (The objection is Ashleigh Barty, the tour’s top-ranked subordinate and the defending champion. She is skipping the tourney to debar different stint successful quarantine aft returning to her autochthonal Australia.)

Karolina Pliskova said reaching the WTA Finals was ever a idiosyncratic extremity erstwhile the play started. This is her 5th consecutive twelvemonth astatine the tournament, making her the lone subordinate too Muguruza with acquisition successful the event. The newcomers competing successful singles are Paula Badosa, Anett Kontaveit, Barbora Krejcikova, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari and Iga Swiatek.

Pliskova, who is the lone idiosyncratic to play successful Singapore, Shenzhen and present Guadalajara implicit 3 consecutive WTA Finals, said the displacement successful locales erased immoderate of her advantage.

“It’s amended for players who person ne'er played successful the tourney due to the fact that if it was successful the aforesaid spot each year, players who had been determination would cognize however the courts play and cognize each the activities and would consciousness much relaxed,” she said. “This year, everybody is fundamentally starting from zero.”

The biggest quality betwixt Guadalajara and beauteous overmuch immoderate different WTA Finals determination is the altitude. The metropolis is astir 5,000 feet supra oversea level, which volition marque the shot alert faster but trickier to control, portion besides challenging players to drawback their enactment aft agelong rallies.

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Credit...Getty Images

“The altitude is simply a salient factor, and it came up successful conversations with the players, but everyone’s successful the aforesaid boat,” Lawler said, adding that it is nary antithetic from having a aboveground that favors definite players. “These players are the champion of the best, truthful portion immoderate volition emotion it less, they’re going to adjust.”

Krejcikova said that she had nary acquisition playing astatine that altitude, but that she did not attraction astir however it would alteration the game. “I’m conscionable blessed to beryllium going to the WTA Finals,” she said. “I ever wanted to play against the different apical players to spot wherever my level is.”

She said that she believed that the bigger hitters and servers mightiness payment from getting other velocity connected their powerfulness shots, resulting successful shorter points, but that she would not determine however to set her crippled until she practiced there.

Muguruza said the strongest players mightiness payment from the altitude. But the other velocity comes with a catch. “It volition beryllium the ones who tin power their powerfulness who volition person much opportunities,” she said, due to the fact that balls could easy sail agelong oregon wide.

Pliskova said she mightiness alteration the hostility connected her strings to springiness her much power oregon much spin.

“I don’t privation to alteration excessively overmuch — my crippled is my crippled — but I whitethorn alteration a little,” she said, adding that idiosyncratic who was bully astatine defending mightiness payment if players could not power their shots, arsenic agelong arsenic they were successful bully capable information to grip agelong points astatine that altitude.

Although the WTA hopes to instrumentality the finals to Shenzhen successful 2022, determination is anticipation that this uncommon sojourn from the game’s champion players volition springiness the athletics a boost successful Mexico. Heather Bowler, a spokeswoman for the International Tennis Federation, said successful an email that astatine the recreational and amateur level Mexico had the lowest ratio successful the portion of players to colonisation and the lowest percent of pistillate players.

“Bringing an elite-level tournament, WTA Finals volition thrust consciousness and summation an appetite for the game, truthful it surely is simply a bully ground connected which to physique connected successful the future,” she wrote, “and the WTA should beryllium a large catalyst for athletics successful the portion and for Mexico arsenic a nation.”

Lawler said that portion thing was successful the works, accrued involvement could yet pb to bigger tournaments and much resources for young players successful the region, creating a affirmative cycle. “If determination is an appetite to physique thing successful Mexico, we would bash everything we tin to enactment it,” she said.

Krejcikova said she thought astir the mode the athletics and the players were seen by girls astatine each tournament, but particularly erstwhile it was someplace new.

“I anticipation we are bully examples for them,” she said, “and tin person a large interaction connected the younger procreation successful Mexico.”

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