The WTA Finals is riding on a wave of tennis’ popularity in Asia and is searching for kids to be the next Li Na.

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The WTA Finals is riding on a wave of tennis’ popularity in Asia and is searching for kids to be the next Li Na.

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Sipping a cold drink on a hot afternoon at the Singapore Cricket Club, Melissa Pine ponders the two years she has lived and worked in Singapore. The Canadian is the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) Asia-Pacific vice-president, and tournament director of its most prestigious championship, the WTA Finals. 

The tournament, now in its 46th year, was first staged outside the United States in Munich in 2001. It has since been held in Spain, Qatar and Turkey, for not more than three years in each location, before moving to Singapore in 2014. 

The WTA Finals feature the top best performing singles and doubles women’s players of the season, and the likes of world No. 1 Serena Williams have played at the Sports Hub’s Singapore Indoor Stadium. 

“We are running a world- class sporting event,” says Pine. “The biggest stars of the WTA come to Singapore every year and it is inspiring young kids in Singapore and across the region to see them coming to town. There is a bigger picture to what we are doing and this is what is motivating me in Singapore.” 

With China’s Li Na winning the French Open in 2011 and becoming the first Asian player to bag a Grand Slam, the sport’s popularity with children has spiked on the continent. This coincides with the WTA Finals’ longest stay outside the US – in Singapore, which is scheduled to host it until at least 2018. 

Says Pine: “(Professional) tennis is a relatively new sport in Asia, and it is a matter of time before there is a next Li Na or Singapore champion in the WTA. These things don’t happen overnight and take time. Tennis in the US and Europe is more of a mature sport, but it has never been better in Asia and is on a major upward trajectory.” 

The WTA’s first Asian office opened in Beijing in 2008, for the China Open. There are now 10 WTA tournaments there and investments are pouring into the sport, says Pine. 

The Finals were brought to Singapore in 2014 to keep that momentum and grow it even further in Asia. The bigger picture, Pines says, is the Future Stars programme she introduced that same year. 

“It is a junior development platform that provides the opportunity to introduce the sport to kids. It now reaches and inspires kids across 18 countries in Asia, and this is because of the WTA Finals in Singapore, which is the first time in history it is in the region.” 

Future Stars operates in partnership with Sport Singapore. Pines says it is a tennis legacy she wants to give Asia. “The best part of my job in Singapore is getting to go out, see the smiles on kids’ faces, put rackets in their hands and see them doing great things for themselves. And it is satisfying to see the best in Asia coming to Singapore to compete among themselves and meet the biggest women’s tennis stars during the WTA Finals.” 

The WTA Finals Singapore take place from Oct 23 to 30.