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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Thursday, April 4, 2024


The WTA has signed a three-year multi-million dollar deal with the Saudi Tennis Federation to host the WTA Finals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Photo credit: Getty for WTA Tour

The WTA's crown jewel tournament will be set in Saudi Arabia.

The WTA has signed a three-year multi-million dollar deal with the Saudi Tennis Federation to host the WTA Finals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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The 2024 season-ending WTA Finals will be staged in Riyadh November 2-9, featuring the Top 8 singles players and doubles teams in the Race to the WTA Finals.

The WTA's announcement today confirming the move of its season-ending event to Saudi Arabia ends months of speculation and debate from both current and former champions with some supporting the move and others adamantly opposed.

The move to Riyadh is both a lucrative and controversial one.

It means two-season ending tournaments—the WTA Finals and NextGen ATP Finals staged in Jeddah—will be staged on Saudi soil starting this fall.

All this while the Saudi-backed Public Investment Fund reportedly has an offer on the table to merge the ATP and WTA into one unified Tour with ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi appointed Commissioner of the unified Tour.

The agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation will offer record prize money of $15.25 million at the WTA Finals in 2024 with further increases in 2025 and 2026.

The WTA also touts this "partnership will also support broader investment in the future development and growth of women’s tennis, including the WTA’s plans to grow the global fanbase for women’s tennis through increased investment in marketing, digital and fan engagement."

Players and former players, including Ons Jabeur, Daria Kasatkina, Chrissie Evert and Billie Jean King have voiced disparate views on the Saudi's Public Investment Fund buying prominent tennis tournaments.

Skeptics charge tennis is flirting with a fault line taking money from Saudi Arabia given the Kingdom’s record on human rights violations and the fact same sex activity for both men and women is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Why would tennis, a sport that prides itself on equality and integrity, sell out foundational values to partner with a regime that represses women and criminalizes same-sex relationships, critics ask?

Why does the WTA, the world's leading women's sport that is about empowering women, feel the need to partner with a nation where women are treated as second-class citizens?

Dollars is obviously the primary reason, though supporters say there's more to the story than money, but is there?

Supporters say tennis can help inspire positive change by competing in Saudi Arabia, increase player prize money, tap a valuable revenue stream and potentially grow the game in the Middle East.

Current and former players supporting Saudi investment in tennis—including Billie Jean King, Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula and Nick Kyrgios—cite several positives, including:

*Saudi Arabia is already invested in tennis as it hosted the ATP NextGen Finals in November. By working with the Saudis as tournament owners and Tour allies, the game's governing bodies not only increase revenue, they decrease the chances of the nation launching its own rival tennis tour, as it did with the LIV golf tour, and poaching top stars away from the ATP and WTA.

*The Tours receive an infusion of resources from a wealthy investor, which is particularly vital to the WTA, reportedly battling financial issues.

*Players compete for more prize money and benefits, which has been a primary aim, with the WTA goal of equal prize money at all tournaments more feasible with more money in the game.

Last summer, the PGA Tour announced its plan to merge with Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf. It's the latest sports venture the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has tapped in moves critics call "sport washing"—an attempt to obscure Saudi Arabia's human rights violations and connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks with high profile sporting investments.

Given the ATP and WTA both now committed to hosting prestigious year-end tournaments in Saudi Arabia, is this the latest step in the march toward a Saudi-backed unified Tour?

As Hall of Famer John McEnroe told the media in an ESPN Zoom call last January "everybody has a price tag."

McEnroe called a potential WTA-Saudi partnership "laughable" but also inevitable in that Zoom call.

McEnroe, who opposes Saudi investment in the sport because of its human rights violations, says given the millions of dollars at stake, and the fact the Saudis already created the LIV golf league, makes the Kingdom's increased investment in tennis inevitable.

"It wouldn’t shock me, let’s put it this way, because it’s the old money talks," McEnroe told the media in January. "Oh no, I wouldn’t do that. Wait how much was I offered? On second thought maybe I’ll do that.

"Personally, I disagree with it completely in golf and tennis. I mean the ladies are going to play the WTA Finals there? Are you kidding me? Because they treat women so well?

"So that part, to me, is laughable.... I’d be surprised if the Saudis don’t buy those tournaments, actually. Not that they will. I’ll be surprised if they don’t have them."


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