WTA to lengthens offseason, pare top-level events

Updated: March 27, 2007, 1:56 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- The WTA Tour approved a streamlined tournament schedule beginning in 2009 that will include a longer offseason and fewer top-level events, with the changes designed to increase player participation and reduce injuries.

Changes In Store For 2009
 Women's Tennis Association
As we sit here in the final days of March wishing some leagues would cut back on their seemingly endless regular seasons, here's how the WTA Tour has reassessed its purpose and well-being of its athletes:

Less is more
• Number of Tier I and Tier II events will be reduced to 20 from 26.

Some more R&R
• Offseason will expand to nine weeks from seven by the season-ending Tour Championships moving to October from November.

Best of the bunch
• Mandatory participation will be required in four events -- Key Biscayne, Indian Wells and new tournaments in Madrid and Beijing.

Quotable
• "We kept fighting a lot and discussed with Larry [Scott, tour CEO] and the board to have a longer break in the winter, so I think it's great. It's great news. Like Larry explained, the fans deserve to see the best players in the world in bigger events, so we are all very excited about that." -- Justine Henin, world No. 1

The number of Tier I and Tier II events will be cut to 20 from 26, and the offseason will expand to nine weeks from seven, the women's tour said Tuesday.

Players will be required to participate in four events -- Key Biscayne, Indian Wells and new tournaments in Madrid and Beijing.

"Players deserve a longer offseason and healthier schedule so that they can avoid injury and fatigue," said Larry Scott, chief executive officer of the WTA Tour. "And in return, fans deserve to see more players consistently performing at their best."

In a separate move by the men's tour, the ATP board approved Shanghai as the site of a Masters Series tournament starting in 2009. Shanghai has hosted the men's season-ending Tennis Masters Cup three times, and it will be held there in 2007-08 before moving to a new location.

"China is a major growth market for tennis and it is vital for the sport to have premium events in its major cities, ideally on a continuing basis," ATP executive chairman and president Etienne de Villiers said.

The women's event in Beijing -- site of the 2008 Olympics -- will be a nine-day tournament.

"I am really excited that Beijing will be the home of one of the tour's biggest and most important events," said Zheng Jie of China, ranked No. 32. "Women's tennis has become incredibly popular in China and will only get bigger in the years to come."

The women's season-ending Tour Championships will move to October from November to lengthen the offseason.

"We kept fighting a lot and discussed with Larry and the board to have a longer break in the winter, so I think it's great. It's great news," said Justine Henin, the world's No. 1 ranked player. "Like Larry explained, the fans deserve to see the best players in the world in bigger events, so we are all very excited about that. Two more years to wait and it's going to be very exciting for everyone."

The WTA Tour also announced a prize-money increase and stiffer penalties for players who skip mandatory events. Prize money will grow to an estimated $72 million in 2009, 30 percent more than this year, the tour said. Top-10 players failing to play at tournaments as required will be subject to suspensions and larger fines than in the past.

The 20 premier events under the streamlined schedule include:

• Eight in North America -- Charleston, Cincinnati, Indian Wells, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal-Toronto, New Haven, Stanford.

• Seven in Europe -- Berlin, Eastbourne, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Stuttgart.

• Five in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East -- Beijing, Doha, Dubai, Sydney, Tokyo.

• The four Grand Slam events -- the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- are in addition to that.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.