WTA’s China tournaments cancelled, including Shenzhen finals

Elina Svitolina of Ukraine reacts in the Women's Singles final match against Ashleigh Barty of Australia on Day eight of the 2019 WTA Finals at Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on November 3, 2019. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

The Women’s Tennis Association’s seven planned tournaments in China this year, including its finals in Shenzhen, have been cancelled.

The news comes two weeks after China’s General Administration of Sports announced that most international sports events scheduled in the country this year would be cancelled. The WTA had subsequently said it was hopeful of getting permission for its tournaments to proceed. The New York Times reported that the organisation’s negotiations with Chinese officials were unsuccessful.

The WTA confirmed the cancellations in a press release this morning. WTA chairman and CEO Steven Simon said: “We are extremely disappointed that our world-class events in China will not take place this year. Unfortunately, this decision also includes the cancellation of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen and as result, the corresponding Porsche Race to Shenzhen. We do however respect the decision that has been made and are eager to return to China as soon as possible next season.

“We would like to acknowledge the significant efforts made by our tournaments in the region throughout this process along with the Chinese Tennis Association for their dedication and commitment to the WTA. We share in the disappointment of many around the world who were looking forward to this swing and appreciate all of the continued support from our fans, partners and the entire region, as we continue to navigate the remainder of the 2020 season.”

The WTA said it would try to run as many other tournaments as possible this season, and published an updated calendar.

The news also affects the Association of Tennis Professionals men’s tour – one of the affected tournaments, the China Open in Beijing, is also on the men’s tour. The NYT reported that the Rolex Shanghai Masters ATP Tour event has also been cancelled, as well as two golf events, an LPGA tournament, thought to be the Buick Shanghai event on October 15-18, and the PGA Tour HSBC Champions in Shanghai on October 29 to November 1.

The WTA is one of the international rights-holders most exposed to China’s shutdown of international sports events. The Shenzhen finals in particular are a major revenue-generator. The WTA has a 10-year deal with Shenzhen to host the event, and the city is investing more than $1bn in tennis infrastructure, including building a 12,000-seat stadium. Steven Simon has said that the annual hosting fee Shenzhen pays the WTA is significantly more than the $14m per year paid by previous host city Singapore.

Simon had previously said that the chances of moving the finals to another country, should China be impossible, were “remote”, and that the WTA had no pandemic cancellation insurance.

The cancelled WTA tournaments are the China Open in Beijing, scheduled for the week beginning October 12; the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and Jiangxi Open in Nanchang, both October 19; the Zhengzhou Open, October 26; the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, November 9; the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, November 16; and the Guangzhou Open, November 23.

The China Open is a top-tier WTA Tour premier mandatory event. Only one of the four premier mandatory events due to be played this year has not been cancelled – the Mutua Madrid Open, scheduled in September.

The New York Times reported that the seven cancelled Chinese events would have offered about $30m in prize money in total.

There remain two Asian tournaments on the WTA calendar this year, the Hana Bank Korea Open in Seoul, starting October 5, and the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, starting November 2. There are a dozen other WTA Tour tournaments scheduled in other regions from August through to December.