WTA statement on Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova criticism after inking Saudi deal

The WTA responds to Evert and Navratilova's criticism after giving the WTA Finals to Saudi Arabia.

by Dzevad Mesic
WTA statement on Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova criticism after inking Saudi deal
© Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

The WTA reached out to Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for discussions after the two tennis legends harshly opposed the idea of women's tennis getting involved with Saudi Arabia but still proceeded with their WTA Finals plan after determining that it was the right thing for women's tennis. 

Already in January, there had been strong rumors and reports indicating that the WTA Finals going to Saudi Arabia was a done deal. Evert and Navratilova, both former 18-time Grand Slam champions and one of the greatest players in WTA history, reacted to the reports by writing a column in which they strongly urged the WTA not to accept any deal with the Saudis. 

At the time, Evert and Navratilova's criticism was mostly centered on Saudi Arabia's human rights record and they also expressed major concerns about laws for women in the Kingdom. 

“Taking a tournament there would represent a significant step backward, to the detriment not just of women’s sport, but women.” Evert and Navratilova said in their piece for The Washington Post in early 2024. 

On Thursday, what has been one of the worst-kept secrets in all of tennis became official as the WTA announced that Riyadh will be hosting the WTA Finals for at least the next three years. 

When Evert and Navratilova hit out at the prospect of the WTA Finals taking place in Saudi Arabia, the WTA didn't issue any public responses. But now, there is a statement issued from CEO of WTA Ventures Marina Storti.

“We had a lot of constructive discussions with Martina and Chris," Marina Storti, CEO of WTA Ventures, the commercial arm of the Tour, told The National.

“Obviously they are legends of the WTA, they are highly respected, and they had some concerns. Ultimately we feel like we’re making the right decision for the sport, for women’s tennis, for our players, for our fans. We think it’s an exciting opportunity and an important step for the long-term growth of the sport.”

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova © Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

What did the WTA look for in selecting a new WTA Finals location?

In Thursday's announcement, the WTA shared that they held discussions for months and that there were three key factors they wanted to be met before choosing the new host city for the prestigious season-ending tournament. 

Firstly, the WTA wanted a location that could deliver and fund a major tennis event for players and fans. Then, the WTA wanted someone who could help them in their goal of achieving equal prize money for women. Lastly, the WTA's goal was also to find someone who could commit to supporting the future development of women's tennis. 

The Saudis met all three key criteria and the WTA gave them the right to stage the WTA Finals through 2026. 

When the WTA Finals take place in Riyadh later this year between November 02-09, the season-ending tournament will feature a record-breaking prize money of $15.25 million. But that's not the best part as it has also been negotiated to have the tournament prize money increase for the 2025 and 2026 WTA Finals editions. 

WTA Finals
WTA Finals © Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

Saudi Arabia has now officially gotten into women's tennis 

Last year, the first-ever official tennis tournament took place in Saudi Arabia when Riyadh hosted the Next Gen ATP Finals. After a men's tournament took place in Saudi Arabia last year, now it is all set for the first-ever official women's tournament in the Kingdom. 

Arij Mutabagani, who serves as the Saudi Tennis Federation president and has the honor of being the first-ever female president in any Saudi sports federation, says that the Kingdom has seen its women take "historic steps" in recent years. Now that Saudi Arabia is about to get a major women's sporting event, she has no doubt that it will help the Kingdom and Saudi women continue their progression. 

“Hosting the WTA Finals is absolutely huge for the future of tennis in Saudi Arabia and growing sport in general, especially amongst our young girls. And that’s entirely our focus, to inspire future generations of players and celebrate women’s tennis. We want to help them to believe that they too belong on centre court, as seeing is believing. Through the tournament we have the potential to power the dreams of millions of young people who are looking to a bright future and a world of new opportunities.

“Everyone will be made to feel extremely welcome. Our country is moving forward. Much has been achieved already and many historic steps taken by women in all sectors in recent years, with sport driving much of the progress across our entire society. So, we have real momentum and hosting the world’s best tennis players in Riyadh will only accelerate our transformation and help grow the game further.”

Chris Evert Martina Navratilova Wta Finals