many interesting insights in this interview, including why there are less $125k in China in 2015 than there were in 2014
basically she says she only killed off Suzhou and Ningbo to allow other Chinese ITFs to upgrade to $125k
Since Li Na's retirement last year, rumors have swirled around the number of women's tennis fans declining in China, but WTA chief Stacey Allaster believes the sport is still growing due to its solid 42-year-old history as well as the benefits Li brings.
Over the past season, ticket sales for the Wuhan Open, a WTA Premier 5 event, and the China Open, a WTA's Premier Mandatory event, reportedly suffered hits after Li *suddenly retired.
"WTA has been a business for 42 years, and it has a solid foundation not built on one player. Players wouldn't be competing for the $130 million prize money if the entire foundation was just on one player," Allaster said of the Li's retirement in an exclusive interview with the Global Times.
"But there will never be another Li Na. She's truly special, and has inspired thousands of young girls to play
The two-time Grand Slam winner announced at the Australian Open that she is pregnant.
Allaster, who has served as WTA chairperson since 2009, believes Li's achievements have brought more success to the sport.
"I have a lot of confidence, over the horizon, there'll be more young girls stepping into her shoes
," *Allaster said.
Currently, there are four Chinese players in the top 100 of the WTA rankings.
Peng Shuai leads the list at 22nd, followed by Zhang Shuai (63), Zheng Saisai (79) and Zheng Jie (100).
Zheng Jie reached the Australian Open women's doubles final, pairing with Chinese Taipei's Chan Yung-jan.
The number of WTA events to be held in China remains at 10, but there are signs of further progress.
China's southern city of Zhuhai is set to host the inaugural $2.15 *million WTA Elite Trophy tournament, which features a 12-player singles field consisting of players ranked between No.9 and No.20 along with one wild card
, after the WTA Finals.
After opening a Beijing office in 2008 as its headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region, the WTA struck up a close partnership with the *Chinese government and tennis associations, allowing the sport to thrive in the region with audience numbers and participation levels soaring
Back in 2011, only two WTA events were held in China, but this year Chinese fans can expect eight on the mainland, with Hong Kong and Taipei ones bringing the number to 10.
"We're always considering opportunities for more events in China where it fits with our *calendar, but we are always careful about adding more," Allaster said
"I don't think I'd have forecast we'd have eight events [on the Chinese mainland] a few years ago."
Romanian Simona Halep won the Shenzhen Open at the start of the season, with the other three WTA International events - in Guangzhou, Tianjin and Hong Kong - waiting for new champions to be crowned.
In 2014, four WTA 125K *Series events - the second highest level of women's tennis below the *top-tier WTA Tour, and just above the ITF Women's Circuit *tournaments - were also held in China: in *Nanchang, Suzhou, Ningbo and Taipei.
Suzhou and Ningbo will not host the 125K events this year as the WTA is seeking more flexibility for the series.
"It's down on an annual basis to provide flexibility to the local tennis association, government, *promoters," Allaster told the Global Times.
"Some of the ITF events want to upgrade. There's always an opportunity for those tournaments to upgrade."
She added that the WTA's target for the 125K Series is to have 10 events in 2020.
In 2014, 17 WTA tournaments out of 58 took place in the Asia-*Pacific region. The region has become the WTA's strategic priority.
"Our history is very deep in North America, a lot of tradition in Europe, and those events are doing *incredibly well, they are the foundation of the WTA, but we are looking for growth," Allaster said.
"Look at the GDP growth of many countries in this region, you can't ignore China, you have to be here, and other countries in the Asia Pacific."
The WTA had relocated its year-end WTA Championship from *Istanbul to Singapore and rebranded it as the WTA Finals, noting the *significance of the Asia-Pacific region.
Though the region just lost an active star in women's tennis, *Japanese male athlete Kei Nishikori is expected to be the new flag-bearer of tennis in the region.
Nishikori reached the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park but was knocked out by 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka. Nishikori now ranks fifth in the ATP rankings.
"Men's success helps women's tennis, and women's tennis' successfully helps men's tennis," *Allaster said.
"It's great in this region to have Asian stars ... It is exciting for Kei to be an ambassador for tennis."
For the majority of fans, watching every single tennis match seems unlikely. But the WTA is working on ways to improve the fan experience.
In December, the WTA announced a ground-breaking 10-year broadcast agreement of more than $525 million with Perform Group, one of the world's leading digital sports content group.
From 2017, all main-draw singles matches and the semifinals and finals of all doubles matches will be live-streamed by the group, Allaster said.
A multi-platform distribution app for WTA is also expected to come to fans next year, she added.