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WTA Finals: Saudi Arabia to host showpiece women's tennis event in Riyadh from 2024-2026

The season-ending WTA Finals will be held in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh from 2024-2026; confirmation ends months of speculation over the nation's involvement in tennis; prize money for the 2024 tournament has been raised to $15.25m (£12m), a 70-per-cent increase from 2023

Iga Swiatek, of Poland, hold her trophy after her victory over Jessica Pegula, of the United States, in the women's singles final of the WTA Finals tennis championships, in Cancun, Mexico, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Image: Iga Swiatek is the reigning WTA Finals champion

Saudi Arabia will host the next three editions of the WTA Finals, the season-ending showpiece event of the women's tennis tour.

The women's professional tennis tour on Thursday announced a deal that will see prize money for this November's tournament raised to $15.25m (£12m), a 70-per-cent increase from 2023.

The nation's capital Riyadh will host the event for the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams from November 2-9, along with the 2025 and 2026 tournaments.

The deal is the latest in a recent wave of investment by Saudi Arabia in tennis, with WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon declaring it an "exciting new opportunity" and a "positive step for the long-term growth of women's tennis as a global and inclusive sport."

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur last month backed the move, telling reporters at Indian Wells: "I think I'm the first player who would be supportive of going to Saudi.

"The country is evolving. I know that other people have a different opinion, which is normal, but I've been there a couple of times and I've seen how amazing people are, how women are getting more and more rights.

"As a female tennis player, I feel it's time to go there, it's time to give the opportunity to women who dream of being tennis players."

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Tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are among those to have raised questions about LGBTQ+ and women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Martina Navratilova
Image: Martina Navratilova had warned against staging the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has enacted social reform in recent years, including granting women the right to drive and dismantling male guardianship laws that had allowed husbands and male relatives to control many aspects of women's lives. But same-sex relations are punishable by death or flogging, though prosecutions are rare.

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post in January, Evert and Navratilova urged the WTA to stay out of Saudi Arabia and asked whether "staging a Saudi crown-jewel tournament would involve players in an act of sportswashing merely for the sake of a cash influx."

In response, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, said the two former athletes relied on "outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our culture" and "turned their back on the very same women they have inspired."

Arij Mutabagani, president of the Saudi Tennis Federation, said that "everyone will be made to feel extremely welcome" at the Finals, while Simon told the Associated Press: "We're going into this eyes wide open that the investment in sport by Saudi certainly provokes strong views from people.

"We've met with Chris and Martina and listened to their concerns and we have shared their concerns through our stakeholders as well, without prejudice. Our focus is on how we develop women's tennis for the benefit of everybody involved in the game ... we are truly a global tour, a global business. We participate in many countries that have different cultures and values systems across the board."

The WTA said that plans were in place to introduce the game to nearly 60,000 girls and boys in Saudi Arabia in 2024 after an estimated 30,000 schoolchildren took their first steps in the sport in the country last year.

"To have a women's tournament of this magnitude and profile is a defining moment for tennis in Saudi Arabia," said HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Minister of Sport and President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

"Women's sport is one of our most exciting areas of growth, with massive potential that we're determined to realise for the benefit of all.

Locations in Europe, North America and Asia also were considered as possible new sites for the WTA Finals, which have moved around to five cities over the past five editions after a deal to put the tournament in Shenzhen, China, through until 2030 was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and concerns over the safety of retired Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai, who accused a Chinese government official of rape.

Saudi Arabia's Private Investment Fund (PIF) formed the LIV Golf tour and put money into Premier League side Newcastle, and the kingdom's role in tennis has been rising. The ATP Tour moved its Next Gen Finals for leading 21-and-under players to Jeddah in November; the PIF is the title sponsor for the men's rankings; 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal recently became an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation; he will join 24-time major champ Novak Djokovic and rising stars Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner at an exhibition event in Riyadh in October.

There have been discussions about placing a top-tier Masters 1000 tournament in Saudi Arabia, too, part of a possible larger restructuring involving the WTA, ATP and the country.

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Speaking in March, Tim Henman and Laura Robson gave their take on potential greater Saudi investment in tennis

The WTA said the Finals prize money will help work to meet the tour's pledge - made last year - to increase pay and put it in line with what men earn in tennis.

The $15.25 million on offer from November 2-9, 2024 - an amount set to increase in 2025 and 2026 - is up from last year's $9 million and eclipses the event-high $14 million at Shenzhen in 2019.

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