WTA extends off-season, reduces top-level events

Times Staff Writer

Reacting to frequent player withdrawals and resulting anger among fans and tournament directors, the women’s tennis tour announced sweeping format changes Tuesday.

Included in the new plan, which is called “Roadmap 2010” but will be mostly in place for 2009, will be upgrades for events in Indian Wells and Carson, and a downgrade, or dropping of, the event in Carlsbad.

Larry Scott, WTA chief executive, made the announcement at the Sony Ericsson tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla.


“The players deserve a healthier schedule, a longer off-season and reduced commitments during the year,” Scott said, “and we believe our fans deserve to see our top players playing together more often on the world’s biggest stages and being able to perform at their best.”

The format designates 20 premier events, down from the current 26, with four treated as crown jewels of the tour. One of those four is the combined men’s-women’s Pacific Life Open tournament at Indian Wells in March, which will have prize money of at least $4 million and, for the first time, will pay equal amounts to men and women winners.

The Carson event, Aug. 6-13 this year, is included in the list of 20 top events, a notch below the crown jewels, and will benefit from increased prize money and player-commitment rules.

Owners of the tournament in Carlsbad, for years one of the more popular stops on the tour, sold their sanction to the WTA Tour last year. That event is only on the tour calendar through this year’s tournament, July 30-Aug. 5.

Under Scott’s plan, the season will end in October, two weeks earlier than previously; players’ tournament commitments will be reduced to 10, excluding Grand Slams, and there will be more stringent penalties for top-10 players who commit to an event and don’t show.

The four so-called crown jewel tournaments -- Indian Wells, Key Biscayne and newcomers Madrid and Beijing -- will be mandatory.

That raises the question of future participation by the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, in an Indian Wells event they have boycotted since a booing incident in 2001. The new rules, still being written, would have them, barring doctor-certified injury, suspended for the Miami event if they didn’t play at Indian Wells.

Scott addressed that specifically at his news conference.

“I am very sensitive to some of the concerns Venus and Serena have had with Indian Wells,” he said. “I’ve discussed this with both of them, and I think they understand that we can’t design a system around individual issues that players have.”