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What happens after Serena? WTA on the road to success

Although not a Grand Slam, the Indian Wells Masters currently taking place in California is one of nine tournaments just below the four majors in importance. It is also one of only 12 combined events where the ATP meets the WTA. It is those big tournaments where the world simultaneously watches both men’s and women’s series and Ena Bilobrk went to official WTA broadcaster Perform Group to find out whether women’s tennis is in any way inferior to their male counterpart.

“They’re given the same facilities, when they look at how they schedule matches. Women are in a good slot for day one, men are in a good slot for day two and it works side-by-side for the tournament”, said Jonathan McCormack, who is producer at WTA media.

McCormack has only been at Perform for over seven months but has already covered more than six WTA tournaments.

He added: “There is still that idea of ‘it’s women’s tennis’ and because they don’t play five sets in a Grand Slam there is always nonsense around it. We are aware that the men’s game has got that extra pull, but it remains to be seen for how much longer that continues.”

With extra pull, he means the names that even strike a non-tennis fan. The argument is that likes of Raphael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer make the world watch tennis. Serena and Co. would be just accessory.

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Yet Francesca Chan, who has been covering the WTA for Perform over the last five years, sees promising changes:

“There is a lot more up and going on the women’s game than there is in the men’s game, which has been dominated by those couple (of players), whereas in the women’s game there is that element of unpredictability because you generally don’t know. For example, in the Australian Open, it could have been Kerber, Wozniacki or Svitolina, which I think adds a different dimension to the women’s game in comparison to the men’s.”

One would argue Serena Williams is the main selling point of women’s tennis, given that her comeback is the main storyline entering Indian Wells. But it is the unpredictability that makes the format so attractive.

McCormack said: “In the men’s game you have your top three or four and everyone else is fighting for a sport at the dinner table, whereas with the women’s game a good 20th ranked player could beat the world number one on a good day.”

The Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova have certainly been selling points in the past and will become great ambassadors of the sport in future. It is hard to imagine where tennis will go to once the great names retire.

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“The women’s game really had a boom period in the 90s and you got the big match ups. You had your Lindsay Davenports, your Steffi Grafs, and we are not there yet with the players that we’ve got. Purely because they’re young, they’re coming out of Serena Williams’ shadow, arguably the greatest athlete to play sport”, he explained.

Chan added: “In terms of upcoming players Zverev is I think the men’s only equivalent. We’ve got loads of them in that respect. It will be interesting in the next couple of years to see our next batch of star players.”

In 2014, Perform signed a $525 million, ten-year extension of their media agreement with WTA, making it the largest live media rights and production venture in the history of the WTA and in women’s sports. A new era is underway, and McCormack and Chan are experiencing the future at close quarters.

“We are trying to make that top 10 to top 20 a little bit more well known, which is something that all of the players are keen to do”, she said and continued:

“I was in the Gym a couple of months ago and the WTA access show came on. Someone just stopped exercising and started watching it. There were actually a few people stopping and watching what we’ve made and then I was like, ‘ah, we are actually doing something for women tennis here’.”

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Ena Bilobrk
Ena was born in Munich to a Croatian family and currently freelances for BBC Radio London while doing an MA in sports journalism at St Mary's University Twickenham. The 23-year-old holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Westminster and has written for Dalmatinski Portal, a Croatian news website, worked for Sky Sport Bundesliga and Bayern Munich Basketball in Germany. During work placement with Sky Sports News in England, she translated Jürgen Klopp’s first interview as Liverpool manager - initially in German - making Sky the quickest media outlet to have his managerial words in English. Ena covered a ranged of sports events from ATP finals, Race of Champions to Formula One pre-season testing in Barcelona.
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