WTA suspends China tournaments amid concern they are damaging growth

• Organisers suspend Shanghai tournament and Beijing WTA Cup • ‘This has not been handled well,’ says WTA president

The women’s tennis tour has suspended two tournaments in China as it takes steps to “rethink their relationship” amid concerns the games have grown so popular with visitors that they are damaging the long-term growth of the sport.

The WTA has suspended the Shenzhen Open and the Beijing WTA Cup pending a review of events in China. The Shenzhen International and the Shanghai Open are so popular with Chinese players and fans that they have been declared exempt from the WTA’s total prize money distribution.

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Some have argued that a higher prize fund for the Chinese pair of Xu Shuai and Peng Shuai and their smaller supporters on the WTA Tour would make the tours better.

In a statement from the WTA, its president, Katrina Adams, said: “As with any partnership, we want to make sure that it’s the right one and this decision has not been handled well by our level of participation.

“We have worked in partnership with the China Tennis Association for several years, which has been extremely helpful and respectful. However, these events have evolved over the years and, unfortunately, now they have reached a point where we have to take a pause.

“We are working closely with the CTA to think long-term about the future of women’s tennis in China. We want to make sure that we are both getting the most out of our relationship, which is very important to us and the athletes.”

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Another 18 tournaments were added to the women’s tour this year, but tournament organisers have said that the recent success of the Shenzhen and Beijing events has reduced the prize fund available for the others.

Shenzhen was given a total prize pool of $1.88m in 2017, while the Beijing event received $1.5m. Most other events in the WTA Tour receive an average of $1.2m to $1.3m a year.

Adams said the tours had to consider how a change of tournament location might affect player welfare. “The impact is not necessarily what the prize money increase will be but making sure it’s a positive for the athletes,” she said.

The Shenzhen Open announced a surprise change in the tournament’s name to the “China Open”. In China it has been known as the Tianjin Open for four years and in 2009 went by the name of the Shenzhen Open.

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Williams, the current world No1, with 9,085 ranking points and a history of success in China, has established a brand and fan base in the country that is tough to replicate for other players.

“This decision to take these tournaments off the WTA schedule won’t directly affect our players but we do want to ensure that we continue to look at how we collaborate with the China Tennis Association in order to elevate our professional development programme,” Adams said.

Chinese fans have been thrilled by the local successes of Peng and Xu, who beat the former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and the former champion of the French Open, Ana Ivanovic, to win the Shanghai Open for the first time in their careers.

The Shenzhen Open, known as the Tianjin Open until last year, has until 5 November to explain its position to the WTA.

“Our players are athletes and should be compensated fairly when they are competing,” Adams said. “We hope that the CTA can come up with a long-term solution for the top players and the WTA Tour.”

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