Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the final of the 2012 WTA Championships. (AP)
The WTA Championships, the prestigious year-end tournament that features the top eight singles players and beginning in 2014, the top eight doubles teams, is in its last year in Istanbul. The WTA announced the four cities under consideration to host the tournament in 2014 and beyond in October: Mexico City; Kazan, Russia; Tianjin, China; and Singapore. While the award won't be announced until the spring of 2013, Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim reports that Singapore is the front-runner to win the bid.
In his weekly Mailbag, Wertheim reports that "multiple sources say that Singapore is the likely new home of the year-end championships."
With the WTA's focus on Asia and its attempts to grow the sport and access the Asian markets, moving the WTA Championships to Singapore makes perfect sense. While the other three candidates' countries already host other WTA tournaments, Singapore does not, which means bringing the sport to a country that otherwise doesn't get to see live women's tennis. In terms of infrastructure, Singapore will likely have less administrative red tape to deal with as compared to the last two hosts of the tournament, Istanbul and Doha, and it has one of the most stable economies in the world, making it a reliable and attractive partner for the WTA. And there's no doubt the players will be bathed in luxury while they're there. The country has the highest percentage of millionaires (one in six citizens top the seven-figure mark) in the world.
But can Singapore build on some of the great strides made in Istanbul? The Turkish fans breathed life into a tournament that seemed like an afterthought when it was in Doha from 2008 to 2010. While the WTA walked away with bags of cash from that deal, the top women were playing matches in empty stadiums in the face of complete apathy.
That changed when the tournament moved to Istanbul, a city so feverish about sports and trying desperately to show the world it has the ability and capacity to host world-class sporting events -- *cough* 2020 Olympics *cough.* Behind the scenes, Istanbul may have been lacking -- the local organization was generally disorganized, and I'm pretty sure the players have enjoyed nicer accommodations elsewhere -- but it was worth it when you heard the capacity crowd roar when the players took the court. Whichever way the decision goes, let's hope 2013 isn't the last year we see that kind of fan response.
UPDATED: Not surprisingly, the WTA neither confirmed or denied the report, instead providing the following statement to SI.com
today: "We are encouraged by the amount of international interest in hosting the WTA Championships and pleased with the four host city finalists: Kazan, Russia; Mexico City, Mexico; Singapore and Tianjin, China. We are looking forward to working with each applicant as we move towards an announcement near the end of 1Q 2013 of the next host for the world's premier sporting event for women."