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Suddenly Singapore: Who Would You Send?

In her infinite benevolence – and desire to expand the WTA Finals – Women’s Tennis Association President Stacey Allaster plans to debut a Rising Stars Invitational to take place during the Tour’s annual Year-End Championships. The Invitational aims to feature up-and-coming talent and a viral marketing aspect, opening the selection process up to a public vote, where two performers from Asia-Pacific and two more from the aptly named “Rest of the World” will be sent to Singapore.

A hitherto unseen innovation, the Invitational’s development has been interesting, to say the least. To give a special spotlight to the region hosting the Finals, the requirements were broadened so that Asia-Pacific players need only have won one main draw WTA match, or have reached a WTA 125K final (besides the overarching age restriction of 23 and under). “The Rest of the World” were held to stricter guidelines, with each nominee having made at least one WTA Tour semifinal if not currently ranked in the world’s Top 50. The latter category is stacked with recognizable names, where the former includes players like Hiroko Kuwata and Nicha Lertpitaksinchai.

Per SI Tennis‘ Courtney Nguyen, Australia’s Olivia Rogowska and China’s Zheng Saisai lead the collection of AP players, while Americans Monica Puig and Christina McHale are the front-runners representing the ROTW. The WTA Finals website promises to send the fan-selected Stars to Singapore, but has interceded when polls have gone awry in the past. In June, Romania’s Simona Halep won May’s Player of the Month Poll in a landslide, leading French Open champion Maria Sharapova with an almost comical 95% of the vote, only for the crown to go to the Russian based on her superior resume.

With less than a day before voting ends, some of the poll’s leading players have earned derision for their very inclusion. Rogowska, for example, is best known for her 2009 US Open epic against then-No. 1 Dinara Safina. The evidently ageless Aussie has largely relied on reciprocal wild cards to play the sport’s biggest tournaments, winning only three Grand Slam main draw matches in the last five years. Both Puig and McHale are respectable players with solid potential, yet lead the poll at the expense of this year’s US Open quarterfinalist Belinda Bencic. The young Swiss upset 2008 finalist Jelena Jankovic to reach the last eight, but trails in the poll despite her credentials and her own efforts to sway the vote.

The Twitterverse broke into discussion when today’s update hit the web, with many wondering the same thing: what is a “Rising Star?” Is that a quantifiable epithet? Is it even something that can be discerned by such broad restrictions? It would appear that, like the WTA’s last attempt to feature young talent with its Tier II YEC, the Tournament of Champions, its demographic outgrew the idea before it came to fruition. When the ToC was first announced in 2008, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka were both teenagers ranked outside the Top 10. By the time the event was underway in Bali less than a year later, both had soared into the Top 8 and were busy playing the “real thing” in Doha. The same could be said for Eugenie Bouchard and Halep, who retain the “Rising Star” moniker despite having largely “risen.” Neither were the prospects that they’ve become when this idea was dreamt up, forcing the WTA to scramble and come up with a comparatively more unique band of “stars in progress.”

Women’s tennis is trying to grow, and with its present coterie of stars aging towards the exit, it’s a wise plan to attempt to feature the future in the present. I fear, however, that execution might once again undermine an otherwise interesting concept.

About David Kane (137 Articles)
Sr. Digital Content Producer, WTA Networks.

2 Comments on Suddenly Singapore: Who Would You Send?

  1. I don’t see any prospect of the WTA intervening to override the public vote on this is the WTA website clearly states that the players with the most votes are the ones who will be sent to Singapore whereas the of the Player of the Month votes have never been binding on the WTA. However if one of the current leaders drops out with the proverbial ‘right foot injury’ then we’ll probably know why…

    I guess it’s nice that the WTA are attempting to improve fan engagement with these public votes but – and I say this as a member of the public myself – the public are idiots. Left to their own devices the public will vote for all kinds of lunacy. You need only look at the fiscal mire the good citizens of Californi gotten their state into into over the years to see that.

    The overwhelming majority of us who follow the WTA throughout the year know that Belinda Bencic (for example) *should* be in Singapore. She’s one of the few nominees for whom it’s genuinely easier to make a case as to why they should be there rather than why they shouldn’t.

    On the other hand, Olivia Rogowska gets a boat load of votes because the Aussies are off their heads on sport and can be relied to on chuck a few hundred clicks her way when the call comes to rally to one of their own (actually watching the matches is another matter entirely). Good luck pulling that amount of leverage, Nicha Lertpitaksinchai.

    The main events of the WTA Finals consist of 24 players who have got there on merit, for simply being the best at what they do, but the Rising Star vote eschews that for a popularity contest in which the ability to conduct a good social media campaign and harness an engaged home population is more important.

    My suggestion is this: Drop the public vote and let tennis journos and writers decide. It’s their business to know the players and they are perfectly placed to make a *balanced* judgement as to what constitutes a rising star and to put the right people on the plane to Changi Airport.


  2. Monica forever and always


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