Calendar. Condition. Constituency. These and Asia are the key words in Steve Simon’s vocabulary on taking the top job at the Women’s Tennis Association.
The job of the three Cs is to help tennis players remain healthy all year round and deliver a premium product consistently for the professional body until the WTA Finals in Singapore, its crown jewel competition that began yesterday.
There are 42 tournaments packed into this year’s calendar from January’s Brisbane International to last week’s Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Except for seven days in February, there are no breaks in between.
And with players complaining the schedule saps their energy, it has become increasingly common for those who qualify early for the all-important Race to Singapore, to drop out from tournaments nearer to it.
But keeping athletes healthy throughout an entire season is a big issue every sport faces, said the newly minted WTA CEO, who assumed the post after Stacey Allaster stepped down last month. His priority running into the job is to find how to fix the calendar to give women tennis players the chance to be consistently fit.
“We have to look at our structure and look at what we do to give the athlete the best chance to be as close to 100 per cent at the end of the year as they can,” said Simon today, in his first meeting with the media since taking charge of the WTA earlier this month.
“That’s our responsibility. We certainly have built an off-season that we need to maintain. Obviously there may be athletes who do other things in that off-season. I can’t control that.
“But during the amount of the year the WTA calendar controls, we need to be respectful and look at that structure (to see how) we can keep our product healthy. Because it’s our product. If I can’t have them on the court, I don’t have the premium product that I am looking to deliver. It’s a fundamental challenge we have to work with.”
Creating the right rest periods in the calendar and reducing the number of withdrawals, as the season end approaches, are keys to his mission. His first port of call to get on board views on how to get this done is the players, whom he will meet, starting in Singapore this week.
Added Simon: “I do want to sit down with all of them and hear their distinct thoughts and perspectives. I think one of the most important things we have out there is learning to listen and understand the perspectives of all the various constituencies involved. May not mean you agree with them, but you need to understand them and, hopefully, get to a balanced decision.”
A key concern for many players is the number of competitions after the end of the US Open in September and the WTA Finals in Singapore. It is a compressed period of time with a lot of events, said Simon, and after a long season playing a lot of tennis, they are tired.
“Then you exacerbate it when you have a compelling race that’s forcing them to play even more to try and get to Singapore,” he said. “The good news is that the players want to be here and they were fighting to get here and very excited to be here. I think that that’s very positive.
“But they would like to see something done with that part of the calendar, and I don’t think they’re wrong. What we do with it is the $99 question that we have to resolve and figure out how to do it. But we do need to address that, and I think that’s where you’ll hear from them.”
Any changes to the calendar are unlikely to affect WTA’s major investments in Asia. Under Allaster, they have opened China in a big way and staged the WTA Finals for the first time in the region in Singapore.
Said Simon: “The WTA led by Stacey Allaster—I think she deserves a lot of the credit—has certainly been able to create a great success in the Asia Pacific region. Where I think we are now with it is that we need to allow the region to mature and make sure that we don’t over saturate it.
“I believe that the WTA has brought a lot of value to the region, and the region has in turn delivered a lot of value back to the WTA. Now that those investments are in place, we have to respect the investments that have been made by the people in the region who believed in the WTA and build from there.
“So I think we have a very strong future here. I think it’s tremendous what’s been done. Now we need to be smart about it as we go forward, and respect it.”