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A huge restructure to the 2024 WTA tournament schedule is being considered according to multiple reports.

Not only has the WTA confirmed that it, under a financial squeeze, is preparing to return to China this year for the first time since 2021 following the (believed) state-sanctioned disappearance of Peng Shuai; WTA 500 Ostrava Open (AGEL Open) Tournament Director, Tomáš Petera, has revealed that top 30 players will no longer be allowed to enter WTA 250 events from 2024 onwards.

Speaking to Czech media outlet TenisPortal on the former issue, Petera believes the WTA have little to no choice but to return the tour to China irrespective of their moral preferences.

"I think the people in management had no choice. It's about money and the WTA doesn't have it, so they decided to come back, even though they look like fools given the events that happened”, Petera opined.

For Petera, the implications of the WTA's return to China will be more personal than most.

His tournament, the Ostrava Open, only returned to the WTA Tour schedule in 2020 following a 20-year hiatus as cover for events cancelled due to the pandemic. However, Petera fears that the late-September to early-October slot it has owned will now come under threat with a beefed-up end-of-season Asian swing.

However, what’s more concerning, is Petera’s surprise revelation that the likes of Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Elena Rybakina may be barred from WTA 250 events next year.

"The situation now is that there will be a complete restructuring of the tournaments from 2024. Today's WTA 250s will become worthless tournaments because tennis players from the Top 30 in the WTA ranking will not be able to play in them" Petera said.

"The fight will begin over who will be allowed by the organization to upgrade the tournament from WTA 250 to WTA 500.

“Of course, the tournaments will have to pay for it. It will probably be clear about who will succeed at the end of April. And then a tournament calendar for the next year will begin to emerge."

Unsurprisingly, the online reaction to these comments has been one of panic and confusion.

If correct, the WTA must swiftly reveal its rationale and business plan to its constituents for on face value, this appears a doomed decision.

Thinking logically, reducing the star power of WTA 250 events will hamstring tournament organisers in their ability to attract crowds and sponsors thus resulting in fewer events and playing opportunities on the calendar.

Some events, like the Hobart WTA 250 held the week before the Australian Open, will barely notice a difference, with Marie Bouzkova the only top 30 player in attendance this year.

On the other hand, the Auckland Classic WTA 250, which only offers its players a pittance in prize money, will surely struggle to maintain its status with 2023 Champion Coco Gauff as its primary draw card.

Undoubtedly, this is a net loss for the tennis ecosystem.

Conversely, WTA 500 events will become more important and prestigious with their apparently elevated status. As Petera noted, there will also be tournament organisers queuing up to have their 250 events upgraded if they’re able to afford the license.

The question for the individual organisers and the WTA will be whether the overall WTA 500 product can be increased, expanded, and further monetized to the extent that it offsets the inevitable losses of the WTA 250 events. This must be the WTAs belief.

Doing so will be a substantial undertaking and an elementary cost-benefit analysis will not on its own suffice. The WTA must consider the opportunities available for its players. For instance, in the three weeks leading up to Wimbledon this year, the WTA calendar has four WTA 250 events, one WTA 125 event, and back-to-back WTA 500 events.

Should this structure remain unchanged (or at least should it only result in the reduction of 250 events and not an increase in 500 events) the world number 31, currently Marie Bouzkova, would be able to play three grass court lead in events against comparatively weaker fields to gain valuable points and get matches in her legs ahead of Wimbledon.

All top 30 players, however, would only be able to play the consecutive WTA 500 events in Berlin and Eastbourne with the latter concluding two days before commencement at the All England Club – something that most top players typically seek to avoid.

If you had to predict how this would play out, it’d be fair to think that most players would play the Berlin event (as would be the WTAs mandate) then anyone who’d performed well in Berlin would announce they’re too injured to play Eastbourne but not so injured they cannot recover in time for Wimbledon.

The result is that only the first-round losers in Berlin would be considered better than even money to play both events.

A further consideration will be the draw size of its tournaments. Most tour events consist of fields of 32 players with at least 8 entries reserved for a combination of qualifiers and wildcards.

In a week where one WTA 500 event and one or multiple WTA 250 or 125 events are being held, the top 30 would be bound to enter the WTA 500 event.

This would mean that those ranked roughly 25 – 30 would be mandated to enter qualifying.

Meanwhile, those outside the top 30 have the autonomy to choose which event they enter based on their own priorities and objective.

In reality, this happens to some extent already. Karolina Pliskova, ranked 20th at the time, was required to enter via qualifying for the Qatar 500 in February.

However, it is one thing for a player to elect to play qualifying at a 500 event in pursuit of greater prize money and ranking points instead of seeking easier wins elsewhere.

It is an entirely different prospect altogether where that player is deprived of the opportunity to make that election herself.

In such circumstances being ranked at the lower end of the top 30 may be a disadvantage compared to those beneath you. At least in terms of one’s autonomy.

Naturally, however, as players’ rankings slide up and down from week to week, what is a problem for a player today may not be a problem they face tomorrow.

That said, support for the WTAs proposal as revealed by Petera, is unlikely to come easily.

No doubt the players, the PTPA, and WTA 250 tournament organisers and sponsors will provide stiff opposition.

From this brief analysis, unless the WTA comes forward with a truly radical proposal, it seems as though the winners of this concept will be few and its losers many.


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