The WTA has signed a long-term deal to move its season-ending WTA Finals to Shenzhen, China, in 2019 and will increase total prize money to $14 million, double the previous purse.
The move represents a significant investment in the China market at a time when the sport is aggressively expanding its reach in the country, with the addition of a number of new tournaments in recent years. The WTA signed a 10-year deal to stage the finals in Shenzhen — double the length of the current commitment in Singapore, the host since 2014.
The prize money for the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams is also a major upgrade from the current purse of $7 million and is nearly double the $8 million in total prize money on offer at the ATP Finals in London.
The WTA said the Chinese real estate developer Gemdale Corporation submitted the winning bid and will build a 12,000-seat stadium in downtown Shenzhen.
"We are very excited about the opportunity I think that Shenzhen brings," Steve Simon, the CEO of the WTA Tour, said at the Australian Open on Thursday. "With the new arena that's being built, it will be built in the downtown district, which hasn't been done. Most of the time it's on the outskirts, and now it's there."
Attendance has been a concern at ATP and WTA events in China in recent years, particularly at new tournaments in cities such as Wuhan and Tianjin, but Simon believes the WTA Finals will attract a sizable audience in a major metropolitan region like the Pearl River Delta.
"When you have 20 million people in that downtown district, plus 68 million in the entire delta region," he said, "we feel confident we're going to be able to fill (the arena)."
The 10-year commitment is also far longer than the WTA has signed in previous host cities, another potential issue if attendance figures don't reach initial expectations.
Simon said, however, that time is needed to build a successful event in a new market. He spoke in 2016 of finding a more permanent home for the finals, saying at the time that Singapore was a city "we'd be very proud to call home."
Jean Ng, sports director for the Singapore Tourism Board, said in an email to The Associated Press that the STB and the national agency Sport Singapore had engaged in discussions with the WTA about keeping the tournament in Singapore, but "as we were unable to reach an agreement on certain commercial issues, we decided not to pursue the extension."
The Singapore event hasn't had the WTA's marquee player, Serena Williams, since 2014, the last year she played in the finals. Williams shut down her seasons early in 2015 and 2016 and gave birth to her daughter in 2017.
Still, Ng said the event attracted 133,000 spectators last year when Caroline Wozniacki defeated Venus Williams for the title, the highest attendance over the past four years in Singapore.
"We take a holistic view of the performance of all events," she said. "The WTA Finals has enjoyed a successful run in Singapore thus far."
Simon said the WTA would evaluate whether it could bring another tournament to Singapore in the future.
"We have created a good market down there, and I would hate to see it get vacated," he said. "I don't have one to put there today, but it's something we will certainly look at."
Shenzhen already hosts a WTA tournament in early January, one of the tune-up tournaments for the Australian Open.
Maria Sharapova, who played in the Shenzhen Open at the start of this season, said the WTA was making a good strategic move to partner with "a place that's willing to invest in women's tennis."
"They were the ones that put the money on the line," Sharapova said. "They are willing to grow our sport. They're willing to build a stadium, willing to accept the game and its level and the players."