WTA working on better pay, considers extending Tour

MUMBAI (Reuters) - With lower-level players reeling financially from the tennis shutdown over the coronavirus, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said on Tuesday it was working to boost players’ earnings when the sport resumes and may extend the 2020 season.

The season screeched to a halt in early March due to the virus, leaving players in the lowest tiers without any opportunity to earn their livelihoods.

“The WTA is diligently working with our tournaments to maximize earning possibilities when the professional tennis circuit is able to resume and is considering an extension to the current 44-week season to enable more tournaments to take place,” the association said in a statement answering questions from Reuters.

“It is our sincere hope to return to the court as soon as possible - when the health and safety or our players, fans and staff can be guaranteed, we will be back competing.”

The men’s ATP Tour and the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, suspended all tournaments until June 7 after countries started locking down borders to contain the coronavirus.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the sport’s governing body, also postponed its lower-tier World Tennis Tour until June 8.

The Nov. 1-8 WTA Finals is the season-ending tournament on the women’s Tour calendar before the season heads into a break of eight to 10 weeks.

In recent weeks professional players, who solely depend on match earnings, have spoken about their financial concerns.

“We wish there was a way everyone, especially those in need the most, could be compensated at the level they were expecting, but the needs are so great and the WTA unfortunately is not in a financial position to do that,” the WTA said.

“Professional tennis players are independent contractors and not employees of the WTA. As a result, a player’s compensation is based on on-court competition and when tournaments are not held this puts a pause on their principal revenue flow.

“The WTA fully recognises the challenges these athletes are facing as well as those similar challenges being dealt with from millions of people around the world during this unprecedented situation.”

The ATP Finals, scheduled to start on Nov. 15 in London, is the final event on the men’s Tour before the ITF’s flagship team-event Davis Cup in Spain.

The men’s Tour is also working behind the scenes and looking at ways to support the players.

“The current situation raises many questions which we empathize with greatly, and we are working hard on evaluating all options,” ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said.

“Our ability to address any supportive measures will be best guided once we know the duration of the crisis and when the Tour will resume, which remains unknown at this time.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne