NEW YORK – Players at the U.S. Open were mixed about the prospect of playing a future edition of the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia after the women’s tour said it had not ruled out the idea of holding the season-ending competition there.
WTA chief Steve Simon previously said that the Gulf state presented “big issues” as a host for women’s tour events, as Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s and LGBTQ rights has led to accusations of “sports-washing.”
But the tour declined to deny outright recent rumours that the WTA Finals could go to Saudi Arabia in the future and said that no decision had been made yet.
Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final, said she was fully in favour of the idea as a way of bringing more Arab women into tennis.
“I am someone pushing for a change, pushing to give more and more opportunities especially for women. I know in Saudi they’re changing things and they’re evolving,” said the U.S. Open fifth seed, who lost in the final last year.
“If they play there, and hopefully if I qualify, it will be a great honour and opportunity for me to go and play there.”
The Next Gen Finals for men’s under-21 tennis players will be held in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027, the ATP said this week, marking the latest move into global sports by Saudi Arabia, which has pumped huge amounts of money into golf and soccer.
“I would prefer the WTA not go to Saudi Arabia,” retired great and current ESPN analyst Chris Evert told reporters this week. “Obviously they have the human rights issues and everything, just the way they treat women. I would be against it. But I don’t have a vote.”
Top American player Jessica Pegula took a more moderate approach, saying she would have to see “a lot of pros outweighing the cons to feel comfortable going there.”
The U.S. Open third seed floated the idea of seeing the potential Saudi hosts donate money to women’s sports or towards the advancement of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s just going to have to be the right arrangement and we’re going to have to know if we go there, okay, well, we want to be making a change and you need to help us do that,” said Pegula, who reached last year’s Flushing Meadows quarter-finals.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of women’s sports, like, we don’t have the luxury to say no to some things.”
Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, the runner-up at the WTA Finals last year, made it clear that she would be back in the mix no matter where the competition is held.
“Whatever decision they’re going to make, I’m happy to go,” she told reporters in New York. “Wherever.” REUTERS