PTPA seeks review of ‘breakdowns’ at WTA Finals

Sports

The Professional Tennis Players Association has asked the WTA to co-commission an independent, third-party investigation into the “numerous glaring breakdowns” that occurred at the recently concluded WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico.

The PTPA extended its invitation in a statement Wednesday, two days after the completion of the WTA Finals, saying the goal is to “ensure these mistakes do not continue.”

The year-end tournament, which featured the top eight singles players and doubles teams, was marred by mishaps, including the stadium not being completed until the day before competition got underway, subpar court conditions and frequent weather delays and near-constant wind.

“The recently concluded WTA Finals not only disappointed players and fans, but also cast a shadow over the sport of tennis and women’s sports in general,” the PTPA said. “Last week, the PTPA chose to remain silent out of respect for the dedicated players who put in a year of hard work to get there, and the local organizers unfairly trapped in an impossible situation. Now that the event is behind us, we hereby invite the WTA to co-commission an independent, third-party report that delves into the numerous glaring breakdowns that occurred over the past several months.”

The PTPA asked for a response from the WTA within 10 days.

Cancun was officially announced as the host city for the event in September, about six weeks before play was scheduled to get underway and amid player complaints about the delay in the reveal.

As the temporary stadium needed to be built, it left little time for preparations and was not yet complete by the time players arrived on site. Several complained about the lack of practice time they were given before play began. After her opening match, Aryna Sabalenka, the tournament’s top seed and reigning Australian Open champion, said players “don’t even feel safe to move on this court,” and later added on Instagram that “the bounce is not consistent at all.”

“I have to say though that I am very disappointed with the WTA and the experience so far at the WTA Finals,” Sabalenka wrote in a now expired Instagram story. “As I said in my press conference tonight, as a player I really feel disrespected by the WTA. I think most of us do. This is not the level of organization we expect for the Finals.”

In an interview on Wednesday with ESPN, Ahmad Nassar, the PTPA’s executive director, added the organization heard from “nearly all” of the participating players about the event, both before and during.

“On a micro level, the biggest complaint was probably, ‘Why are we here? Why are we in Cancun?'” Nassar said. “And not to offend the people of Cancun, who bent over backwards to put on the event, but it’s more about the process — ‘Why are we here? Why was there a lack of communication about how the decision was made when the decision was made?’ It’s a big location issue that goes into having to practice on the hotel courts, which are not at a professional standard, as well as the stadium being half done and playing outside in the middle of hurricane season.”

Nassar added that players were also looking to have their voices heard and for WTA officials to take accountability. He mentioned several of the same players had participated in the 2022 event, which was held in Fort Worth, Texas, after the WTA moved it from its previously announced location in Shenzhen, China, and they had shared many of their frustrations and concerns about that venue last year. However, he said many of the players felt like what they had said had been ignored.

“It was kind of like, ‘Is this Groundhog Day?'” Nassar said. “‘How are we here all over again? Why haven’t we been heard?'”

Following her group play victory against Coco Gauff on Wednesday, Iga Swiatek, the eventual champion, was critical of the lack of fans in attendance for the match, something that also plagued the 2022 tournament. She put the fault on the WTA.

“Honestly, I think there’s plenty [the WTA] can do,” Swiatek said. “It’s a pretty weird situation where we have meetings with the WTA and we explain to them what should be done sometimes. For sure, there’s potential to work on that. Obviously, [the WTA] decided late that we were going to play here. The marketing should be better. It’s a shame we don’t have a full stadium and we can’t really feel like we’re at like a tennis celebration for the whole week.”

With multiple players also competing in the Billie Jean King Cup, currently underway in Seville, Spain, some players had also expressed concerns, both publicly and to the PTPA, regarding logistics about travel in order to attend both events. Ellen Perez, who played in the doubles draw and is currently representing Australia at the BJK Cup, had mentioned such a concern on X immediately after Cancun was announced. She found herself with just hours in between the doubles final, played on Monday afternoon due to previous rain delays, and Australia’s opener in Seville — nearly 5,000 miles away — on Tuesday morning.

“Really not impressed with this scheduling disaster,” Perez posted on social media on Sunday. “Why do I have to be punished for this?”

The WTA Finals was the latest frustration for the players this season. As reported by the Athletic last week, several of the WTA’s top players sent a letter to WTA CEO Steve Simon in October asking for various changes to be made, including a guaranteed income and coverage for maternity leave and injury layoffs. Nassar said he followed up the player letter with one of his own later in the month. There have also been multiple meetings with Simon and the players since, as well as the PTPA and the WTA in Cancun.

Speaking to ESPN just hours after the PTPA called for an investigation into the WTA Finals, Nassar had not heard from the WTA at that time. The organization has yet to publicly comment either, but it had previously defended the event’s stadium and court in a statement and said both did “meet our strict performance standards.”

Nassar said that wasn’t enough.

“If this were the Super Bowl, if it were the NBA Finals, we all know that these conditions wouldn’t be tolerated whatsoever,” Nassar said. “We know there would be accountability at the highest level if that were the case. And that’s what these players are asking for — accountability and the respect they deserve.”

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