Saudi Arabia to host WTA Finals for next three years with record $15 million prize money

World No 6 Ons Jabeur says holding season-ending championships in Riyadh 'great' for women players and the region

Saudi Arabia to host WTA Finals for next three years

Saudi Arabia to host WTA Finals for next three years
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The WTA Finals, the crown jewel of the women’s tennis tour, is heading to Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh announced on Thursday as the host city for the next three season-ending championships.

This year’s WTA Finals will take place in the Saudi Arabian capital from November 2-9 and will offer record prize money of $15.25 million, with further increases planned for 2025 and 2026.

That amount eclipses the $15 million prize pot offered to the men at the ATP Finals in Turin last year and also surpasses the $14 million earned by the players at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, in 2019.

The 10-year deal between the WTA and Shenzhen, which kicked off in 2019, failed to take hold and the tour made one-off stops post-Covid in Guadalajara, Fort Worth, and Cancun, as the search continued for a long-term home for the event.

According to a WTA press release, an evaluation process took place over several months to assess multiple bids to host the Finals. The three main criteria on which the Tour based the selection are: the ability to deliver and fund a world-class event for players and fans, support for the WTA’s ambition to achieve equal prize money for women, and the strength of the bidder’s commitment to growing the WTA Finals and the sport over time.

Ultimately the bid from the Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) checked all the boxes and an agreement was finally reached. Besides the record prize money on offer, the WTA says the partnership with the STF 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”.

Tunisian star Ons Jabeur, the highest-ranked Arab tennis player in history and has qualified for the WTA Finals in 2022 and 2023, said she was thrilled to see the WTA Finals finding a new home in Riyadh.

"It’s great that the WTA has decided to go and play the Finals there. As an Arab woman, I am proud to be part of this. I hope I could qualify and play there; it would definitely be special,” Jabeur told The National.

“It’s time to make the change and I hope as women athletes we could do that and inspire more women in the region and around the world.”

The world No 6 and three-time grand slam finalist also praised the STF for their support of women’s tennis, adding: “It’s great to see the commitment from the Saudi Tennis Federation towards the tour’s goal of achieving equal prize money for us players and to see this record prize money on offer for the Finals in Riyadh. It shows how much they respect us and how much they value us as women athletes.”

Players were consulted throughout the bidding process. Discussions were also held with WTA legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who had published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post in January, criticising the Tour for negotiating with the STF and urging the WTA not to award the hosting of the Finals to Saudi Arabia.

“We had a lot of constructive discussions with Martina and Chris," Marina Storti, CEO of WTA Ventures, the commercial arm of the Tour, told The National.

“Obviously they are legends of the WTA, they are highly respected, and they had some concerns. Ultimately we feel like we’re making the right decision for the sport, for women’s tennis, for our players, for our fans. We think it’s an exciting opportunity and an important step for the long-term growth of the sport.”

In parallel with the hosting of the Finals in Riyadh, the WTA says it will work with the STF to develop multi-year initiatives to help drive continued progress and in particular to apply the WTA’s expertise and capabilities to engage and inspire more girls and boys to participate in tennis.

These initiatives will further expand the impact of the programmes run by the Tour’s philanthropic arm, the WTA Foundation, and will be delivered with the active participation of leading players over the term of the partnership.

“Bringing the WTA Finals to Riyadh is an exciting new opportunity for us and a positive step for the long-term growth of women’s tennis as a global and inclusive sport,” said WTA CEO and chairman Steve Simon.

“We’ve been impressed by the commitment shown by the Saudi Tennis Federation to grow the sport at all levels and we have no doubt that players and fans can look forward to a world-class event in Riyadh as the finale to the 2024, 2025 and 2026 seasons.”

Arij Mutabagani, president of the STF, has been working tirelessly to bring women’s tennis to the kingdom and assures “everyone will be made to feel extremely welcome” in Riyadh.

“Hosting the WTA Finals is absolutely huge for the future of tennis in Saudi Arabia and growing sport in general, especially amongst our young girls,” she said.

“And that’s entirely our focus, to inspire future generations of players and celebrate women’s tennis. We want to help them to believe that they too belong on centre court, as seeing is believing. Through the tournament we have the potential to power the dreams of millions of young people who are looking to a bright future and a world of new opportunities.

“Everyone will be made to feel extremely welcome. Our country is moving forward. Much has been achieved already and many historic steps taken by women in all sectors in recent years, with sport driving much of the progress across our entire society. So, we have real momentum and hosting the world’s best tennis players in Riyadh will only accelerate our transformation and help grow the game further.”

While the Tour’s recent deals for the WTA Finals have typically been longer, with Singapore hosting the event for five editions between 2014 and 2018, and the agreement with Shenzhen initially set for 10 years starting in 2019, the three-year partnership with the STF allows the Tour to have enough time to build the event and promote it, without committing too far in advance in an ever-changing, fast-growing climate for women’s sport.

The agreement between the WTA and the STF comes on the heels of a multi-year strategic partnership formed between the ATP and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced in February.

Professional tennis tournaments have been staged in the Arabian Gulf region for over three decades – in the UAE and Qatar – with Saudi Arabia now emerging as a key player in the region.

“This multi-year partnership expands the WTA’s presence in the Middle East and brings us to a country with huge potential for growth, as well as supporting our ambitious plans to accelerate the global development and progress of women’s tennis,” Storti added.

“We're looking forward to working with the Saudi Tennis Federation over the coming years to grow the WTA Finals, create more fans, and inspire more people to play our brilliant sport."

The venue for the WTA Finals in Riyadh has yet to be announced, with further details expected over the coming months.

Updated: April 05, 2024, 5:19 AM