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  • The San Juan Daily Star

With China out, WTA to play finals in Texas


Ashleigh Barty of Australia won the 2019 WTA Finals, the most recent iteration of the tournament played in China.

By Jesus Jiménez


The Women’s Tennis Association announced Tuesday that Fort Worth, Texas, would host its annual season-ending WTA Finals this year.


The tournament, which will begin Oct. 31, said it had a one-year agreement to play in Fort Worth, “with the event thereafter due to return to Shenzhen, China.” But the WTA said the suspension of its tournaments in China remained in place, leaving the WTA Finals’ return to China in 2023 uncertain.


WTA tournaments in China have been suspended since December, when Steve Simon, the tour’s chairman and CEO, announced the decision, after Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai shared in a post online an allegation of sexual assault against a former top Chinese government official.


In the following weeks, Peng, 36, was not seen publicly, and it was unclear whether she was safe or able to speak freely without interference from the Chinese government. She later deleted her post.


In November, the editor of a state-run newspaper shared clips said to be of the Chinese tennis star on Twitter. But they were unverified, and Simon called them “insufficient.” The WTA had called for Chinese authorities to investigate the accusation and end censorship on the subject before suspending tournaments.


After Peng went public with her allegations, tennis fans were spotted at tournaments, including this year’s Australian Open, with signs and T-shirts reading “Where is Peng Shuai?” Others, including Serena Williams, took to social media to express concerns about Peng’s safety.


“If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded — equality for women — would suffer an immense setback,” Simon said in a statement in December, announcing an effective boycott of tennis in China. “I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”


In February, around the time Peng met with the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the Beijing Games, Simon called for a chance to have a private meeting with Peng, adding in a statement that “we continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai.”


In an email Tuesday, a WTA spokesperson said the organization “continues to work towards a resolution in China and are hopeful we will be in a position to operate events in the region in 2023 and beyond but will not compromise our founding principles in order to do so.”


The WTA’s stance has not come without a cost. China had been a fundamental source of financial stability for the WTA, with 10 events that accounted for about one-third of the tour’s annual revenue in 2019. The most profitable and recognized of those events was the WTA Finals, which offered record prize money of $14 million in 2019.


The WTA gained some relief from that loss of revenue in March, when, after more than a decade without a title sponsor, it agreed to a multiyear deal with Hologic, a leading global medical device and diagnostics company focused on women’s health.


The WTA Finals have been roaming the world for a home since 2019, which was the first year of what was supposed to be a 10-year deal that would have kept the tournament in Shenzhen, a city of more than 17 million.


But the following year, the WTA Finals were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in 2021, the tournament scrambled at the last minute to find a host and ended up in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain won the final against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.


Having the tournament in Texas this year brings the WTA Finals, which has had different names over the years, back to the United States for the first time since 2005, and it adds to the tour’s presence in the United States to end the year. After the U.S. Open, the WTA will have a 500-level tournament in San Diego in October and a 125-level tournament in Midland, Michigan, about 130 miles northwest of Detroit.


The tournament in Fort Worth, about 30 miles west of Dallas, will be played at Dickies Arena, a 14,000-seat multipurpose venue that opened in 2019. The venue has hosted a rodeo, concerts, the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, and the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

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