WTA championships off with a bang

WTA championships off with a bang

WTA championships off with a bang

AFP photo

Turkey is new to hosting the WTA Championships, but the first two days have gone down as a success.

The year-end tournament brings together the top eight players in women’s tennis to Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dome. The biggest tennis tournament Istanbul previously hosted was the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Istanbul Cup. From 2005 to last year, the WTA Championship boasted important names, including Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva, Francesca Schiavone and Agnieszka Radwanska, but it was usually played in front of empty seats.

This is the first time Istanbul is hosting the tournament, as the competition was held in Doha, Qatar, for the last three years. But the WTA Championships have shown Turkey’s newfound affection for the sport. More than 10,000 fans filled the arena to 80 percent capacity to watch Petra Kvitova meet Vera Zvonareva, Caroline Wozniacki take on Radwanska and Maria Sharapova face Sam Stosur on Oct. 25. The figures were similar to yesterday’s turnout for the Stosur vs. Victoria Azarenka, Sharapova vs. Li Na and Wozniacki vs. Zvonareva matches.

Zvonareva is among those who heaped praise on the atmosphere.

“It’s a great atmosphere to be in,” she said after losing in straight sets to Wimbledon champion Kvitova. “I didn’t expect something like this.”

And Zvonareva was not only talking about the numbers. “Everyone was applauding and everyone was supporting, it was incredible,” she said, adding that it was amazing how spectators understood the game knowing where to support and where to cheer.

 “In tournaments usually you have weekends full, but this is one of the best ones I have ever seen. First day, first match, five o’clock during a weekday – that’s impressive.”

The atmosphere is likely to get even better once the semifinals and finals roll around at the weekend. All tickets are sold out for those two days. Make no mistake about it, the wise pricing of the tickets, which were 10 and 20 Turkish Liras, played a huge role in attracting the crowd, as did the extensive promotion of the tournament.

But that should not stop anyone giving credit to the Turkish Tennis Federation (TTF). Chaired by Ayda Uluç, the TTF took important steps in bringing tennis to the fore, contending for popularity in fourth spot behind football, basketball and volleyball. Similarly, television channels, such as Eurosport Turkey and NTV Spor, did a great job to give the sport deserved coverage.

As Sharapova said earlier, Turkey can ride the WTA Championships wave and turn the interest into something bigger.

“This is a big step forward,” she said. “Not for us, the players, but the country itself, the girls and boys will be watching. All the girls believe in what we do.”

Not everyone was content, however. Radwanska rued the unpredictability of the hard court.

“The surface is a little bit weird,” Radwanska said. “It’s pretty slow. So you really have to be used to it. I just hope I can play better in the next match.”

Radwanska lost 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to Wozniacki on Oct. 25, while US Open winner Stosur claimed her first career win over second-ranked Sharapova with a 6-1, 7-5 victory.

Kvitova, Zvonareva, Wozniacki and Radwanska are in the Red Group, while Li, Azarenka, Sharapova and Stosur are in the White Group. The top two of each group will compete in semifinals on Oct. 29, while the final follows on Oct. 30.

With two more match days left and four spots still up for grabs, the Sinan Erdem Dome is likely to create more magical spectacles