From November 10th to 17th, the city of Guadalajara will host the most important tennis tournament ever held in Mexico. For the first time in Mexican history, Guadalajara will be the host of the prestigious event called the WTA Finals at the AKRON Tennis Stadium. The tournament brings together the 8 best singles and doubles female tennis players of each season.
Initially, the competition was to be held at its official headquarters in Shenzhen, China; they have a contract to host the tournament from 2022 to 2030. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shenzhen will not be hosting the event this year, leaving the opportunity open for another country. So, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Octagon began to look for other options – eventually setting their eyes on Mexico.
The brilliant organization of the WTA 250 tournament in Zapopan, held at the beginning of the year, was essential to securing the venue, even though there were other great candidates.
“Everything happened after our 125 tournament in Zapopan this February. We were very successful with the WTA. There were other very solid countries that were interested, cities like Prague, Hong Kong, Los Angeles; they were all options. But time worked in our favor, we worked on the presentation of the city, the presentation of Mexico, how we would make the new stadium, how we would house the players, and in the end, we left as the winners, as the official venue of the event,” said Gustavo Santoscoy, Director of the AKRON WTA Finals.
Santoscoy explained that in Zapopan, the bubble worked perfectly, without anyone in the organizing committee, nor any player, testing positive for the coronavirus. This was something that helped a lot in the decision to win over the event.
Carrying out an event of this magnitude requires great efforts from many different people; this includes sponsors, media, government support, infrastructure, health protocols, etc. This can often get very expensive. However, according to Santoscoy Arriaga, things were perfectly arranged so that Guadalajara could achieve the hosting role.
“To distribute $5 million, compared to all the events that we have previously had in Mexico, is very large. It is an event that is already very organized – it has already been sold to international sponsors and rights. We as the city and municipality of Zapopan, what we are offering are the facilities of the tournament and the internal organization. For example, the conditions of the courts, the route for the players, facilities for entering the country, all the different types of logistics. It is a unique opportunity because it is an event that has already been sorted in China, that is why so many countries were interested in the event. But we were the lucky ones, other countries today may wonder “Why Mexico? Why Guadalajara? What do they have that we don’t?” We are providing an open city with all the security, roads, and hotel operations so that this party can take place.”
Regarding the protocols to follow, Guadalajara, and especially Zapopan, has already experienced organizing events of this nature. “We are not new, we already know the WTA protocol, we already know the city protocols, knowledge of the state health departments, and so on. How we are going to operate is nothing new, the distancing of the players in public areas, the mask mandate, public access to the players, limited restaurants. As for the tennis players, their coaches. And their families, they will have to take the COVID test every third day; the media will have to come vaccinated in addition to testing every third day. We’ve already had to experience these protocols with past events, and we did it perfectly. We hope that everything goes accordingly to what the WTA is waiting for,” said Gustavo Arriaga.
In terms of infrastructure, the Akron WTA Finals tennis center is where the 2011 Pan American Games were held. The venue has 13 courts and a stadium that holds 2,600 people – which is too small for an event of this size. So, it was remodeled and expanded to now hold 7,300 people. Of the 13 courts that the Pan-American complex had, only four of the courts will be used for playing tennis; the rest of the courts will turn into dining rooms, a press area, the players’ lounge and official tournament offices. There will be three host hotels for international and national journalists, WTA staff and players who usually arrive with four or five team members.
“Today, through the state health department, we have authorized 50% capacity – there will be four daily matches, two singles and two doubles. The protocols include spaces between each seat, face masks, sanitizers at the entrances, and temperature checks. We have a strong team of more than 800 people working; in addition to the players, we will have more than 140 international media members, more than 450 guests from the WTA (including 22 directors of major tournaments), international sponsors, and famous faces such as Martina Navratilova or Chris Evert. Everyone in the world of tennis, are going to focus just on Guadalajara that week,” said the head of the organization.
The designation of Guadalajara as the official venue for the tournament, caused some minor backlash. For example, Craig Tyzzer, the coach of the current number one player in the world, Ashleigh Barty, stated that the issue with the city is the city’s altitude of 1,5000 meters above the sea level, “where pressure-less balls fly, with conditions unknown to the participating tennis players and in a city where they have never played, which will be quite a challenge.”
“This issue is handled directly by the WTA, which has a direct line with the players. We, as the organizing committee, take care of receiving them under all the circumstances with COVID. Surely what is being questioned is that they come from playing in big cities, big venues, and talking about Guadalajara – on a world scale – is something new for the players. It is understandable why they would ask what Guadalajara was like as a tennis city. When we present the city, how wonderful Jalisco was, is when the WTA said, “we are going to Zapopan to play this event.” So far, we have no news that Barty will not come, she is entered in the draw among the four already registered.”
Gustavo Santoscoy mentioned how important this event is and what it means for the players to travel to Guadalajara; Czech player Karolina Pliskova recently announced that she will not play in the Billie Jean King Cup in Prague – her native country – in order to prepare for the WTA Finals. Pliskova will arrive in Mexico on November 1st so she can train for 10 days in Guadalajara before the tournament starts. She hopes to acclimate to the altitude, courts, and city. He also said that Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka has sent a video saying that she is eager to play in Zapopan. Even the Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza is focused and prepared in case she manages to be amongst the top 8 “in general, all the players already know what we are preparing them for and they have showed they’re happy to come to Guadalajara.”
Now, four tennis players have already qualified for the tournament: Ashleigh Barty from Australia, Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus, Barbora Krejcikova and Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic. Fighting for the last four spots are: Iga Swiatek of Poland, Maria Sakkari of Greece, the two Spaniards Garbiñe Muguruza and Paula Badosa, and Ons Jabeur from Tunisia.