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Azarenka calls for fitting venue for women’s tennis finals

Victoria Azarenka. Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP

Victoria Azarenka said Monday that she hopes the WTA Finals will find a “deserving” home, after a couple of years of instability after the women’s tennis organisation suspended all Chinese tournaments.

The former world number one and two-time Australian Open champion also urged an announcement on this year’s venue soon, to allow for better marketing of the tour’s flagship event.

The season-ending championships feature the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams. They were initially meant to be staged in China’s southern city of Shenzhen every year for 10 years, starting with the 2019 edition.

The deal with Shenzhen was record-breaking and the inaugural 2019 showpiece awarded singles champion Ashleigh Barty $4.42 million — which was the highest-ever prize money awarded to a player at any tennis event across both the men’s and women’s tours.

But the pandemic and the fallout from the disappearance of Chinese player Peng Shuai — which led to the WTA suspending operations in China — have meant that the tour Finals have not returned to Shenzhen since 2019.

Peng, the former doubles world number one, has not been seen outside China since first making, and then withdrawing, accusations of sexual assault against a high-ranking official.

The WTA championships were cancelled in 2020 and then found a temporary home in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2021, and Fort Worth, Texas in 2022.

The WTA Finals in Fort Worth witnessed sparse crowds and were only announced late September — less than two months before the event.

“We need something that is deserving of the Finals,” Azarenka, an active member on the WTA Player Council, told reporters at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.

“Last couple of years with such a short announcement, absolutely no time for marketing — in my opinion — it’s been undervalued.”

Azarenka said the Guadalajara edition featured “unreal” crowds and believes future stagings of the prestigious tournament should receive the same welcome.

But she said there was “no defined place right now”.

“There’s still talks about China. There’s nothing definitive.”

This season marks the 50th anniversary of the WTA and Azarenka spoke about the need for evolution on the tour, warning that some “people from the older generation” appear to be holding back the sport.

She also called for more unity and involvement from the players when it comes to taking the sport forward.

“It’s very difficult to change the ways that’s been done, to break sort of traditions or the way it’s been going,” she added. “Tennis needs to become quicker in terms of timing.”

Azarenka moved into the second round in Dubai with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and next takes on American Amanda Anisimova on Tuesday.

Top seed Iga Swiatek and recent Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka are also in action at the WTA 1000 tournament on Tuesday.

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