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Hosting WTA Finals a right fit for S'pore: STB
WHEN Singapore's tourism and sporting officials were looking for a world-class event to position the country as a top sports events destination, they found their match in the Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) season-ending championships.
"The WTA and ourselves shared a common agenda, and we realised we could add value to each other," said Jean Ng, the director of sports at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
"They needed a host city that would fit their positioning of this event as one of prestige, while we needed an event that would elevate us on the sporting map and bring in the tourism arrivals," she said in an interview with The Business Times.
And so in 2013, after a year-long tender process and bids from 43 cities, Singapore beat fellow finalists, China's Tianjin and Mexico's Monterrey, to secure the hosting rights to what is now known as the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The Republic became the first Asia-Pacific city to host the tournament, which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams competing for a record US$7 million prize purse.
The competition is the most prestigious event on the women's professional tour after the four Grand Slams - the Australian, French and US Opens, and Wimbledon.
Singapore hosted the inaugural edition of the WTA Finals in 2014, the first of five tournaments to be staged here. The third edition began on Sunday evening at the Singapore Sports Hub at Kallang, and will last for an entire week with 11 sessions of tennis.
Ms Ng, a former national netball player who leads the STB team that manages several events such as the annual Formula One night race and the Singapore Rugby Sevens, said that the WTA Finals has brought many economic benefits to the country.
Back in 2013 when Singapore was unveiled as the new host, STB estimated that each of the five instalments of the WTA Finals would net about S$15 million in tourism receipts.
The first two tournaments here saw record attendances. The 2014 edition attracted 129,000 people to the Sports Hub, with 93,000 fans inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the matches. This was the highest number since 2000 when the tournament was staged at New York's Madison Square Garden arena.
Last year, 130,000 people experienced the many tennis-related activities at the Sports Hub, with 71,000 catching the "live" action inside the stadium.
When asked if Singapore would consider bidding for the WTA Finals hosting rights again - the current deal ends in 2018 - Ms Ng said that it would be an option but there have been no firm plans as yet.
"I'm sure it's open for us to put up another bid for five more years, but that conversation hasn't really started yet. That ball lies with the WTA in terms of what their plans are, and if they feel Singapore is a great place to continue hosting their event," she said.
"We will look at whether the event has fulfilled its objectives, such as bringing in economic benefits, community benefits such as getting more people to play tennis, and helping our elite tennis scene to grow. We will evaluate all the different reasons why we brought it here in the first place, and see if it still makes sense for us."
The first day of action on Sunday saw all four players from the Red Group in action. The opening match on Centre Court saw Romania's hard-hitting Simona Halep defeat tournament debutant Madison Keys from the US 6-2, 6-4 in just 68 minutes.
The world No 1 player Angelique Kerber was later involved in an epic battle with Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova that went the distance. The 28-year-old Kerber eventually prevailed 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted two hours and 17 minutes. At the end, the crowd rose to their feet to applaud the effort of both players.
There are two matches on Monday night as the four players from the White Group take to the court. Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland will begin her defence of the trophy against Russian star Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The latter was the eighth and final player to qualify for Singapore after her Kremlin Cup victory in Moscow last Saturday. The second match on Monday will see Czech star Karolina Pliskova battle Spain's Garbine Muguruza.