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World No 1 Iga Swiatek was one of the players to lend her support to Saudi Arabia hosting the WTA Tour finals. Image Credit: Reuters

Riyadh: The season-ending WTA Finals will be held in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh from 2024-2026, the women’s tennis body said on Thursday, ending months of speculation and marking the Gulf country’s latest foray into the sport.

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Riyadh will host the season finale — which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams — from November 2-9 and replaces last year’s hosts Cancun, Mexico.

The WTA said its agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation will offer record prize money of $15.25 million this year with further increases in 2025 and 2026.

Defining moment in Saudi tennis 

“To have a women’s tournament of this magnitude and profile is a defining moment for tennis in Saudi Arabia. The WTA Finals has the power to inspire far beyond the sport, especially for our young girls and women,” the Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud told Reuters.

Talk that the event could be shifted to Saudi Arabia had intensified after the men’s ATP Tour said last August its Next Gen Finals would be held in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027.

“The WTA selected Riyadh following a comprehensive evaluation process over several months, which has included assessment of multiple bids from different regions and engagement with players,” it said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sports like football, Formula One and golf in the last few years.

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Saudi players celebrate at the end of a game. The sport is set to get a big boost with the arrival of WTA Tour Finals. Image Credit: Reuters

New opportunity

“Bringing the WTA Finals to Riyadh is an exciting new opportunity for us and a positive step for the long-term growth of women’s tennis as a global and inclusive sport,” WTA chief Steve Simon said.

“We’ve been impressed by the commitment shown by the Saudi Tennis Federation to grow the sport at all levels.”

World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Caroline Wozniacki said at the Australian Open that engagement offered the chance to spark positive change.

Shifted from Shenzhen

The tournament was looking at a long future in Shenzhen, China, when the WTA held the 2019 edition of the Finals there with a prize pot of $14 million after the Asian city saw off rival bids to secure a 10-year deal.

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Aryna Sabalenka was critical of the standards of organisation by Cancun and praised Saudi Arabia after amazing experience during an exhibition game. Image Credit: Reuters

However, China’s response to the Covid pandemic forced the event to be cancelled the following year and it was shifted to Guadalajara, Mexico in 2021.

Fort Worth, Texas hosted the 2022 tournament, drawing sparse crowds and the WTA was expected to shift it to Saudi Arabia last year before naming Cancun as the venue less than two months from the start.

That edition was criticised by Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who said that she felt “disrespected” by the standard of organisation, prompting Simon to send a letter to players admitting the event was “not perfect”.

The Belarusian had said she would be happy to play the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia after an “amazing experience” during an exhibition match in Riyadh late last year where she took on Tunisian Ons Jabeur.