November 23, 2023

Open Court


WTA Finals stadium rounding into shape – just in time

CANCÚN, Mexico – A lot of angst spilled on social media (not by the players, so much) about the last-minute construction of the stadium court for this year’s WTA Finals in Cancún.

That’s how it goes, of course.

Undated or out-of-date photos, people pushing agendas, the WTA Tour – which has had plenty of issues and PR challenges this year already – has been getting lathered up by its critics.

When Open Court finally arrived in Cancún Friday evening – just a little over 36 hours from when the first balls are scheduled to be struck in this year’s year-end championships, we expected the worst. So we went on a reconnaissance mission.

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We convinced the van driver (who spoke three words of English but was fluent in the *universal language* of the US dollar), with our emergency Spanish, that it would be a brilliant idea if he would take a fairly significant detour from our non-beachside hotel to go inspect the progress.

After finding an opening in the fence, just out of view of the Cancún police – journalism is an adventurous job sometimes, and there was a full moon, no less – we managed to sneak in and check the place out.

Expecting the worst, it turned out that things look in pretty good shape.

Here’s what it looked like.

The stands are in. The court is down. And when we climbed to the top of the stadium we noted they were putting down the sensors for the automatic linecalling system.

There was plenty of drilling and banging and everything else going on. But it appears it’ll be ready in time for the start of play Sunday.

And yes, it could well have gone south. But it doesn’t appear it will.

Temporary stadiums not rare

We all know that even if something isn’t particularly new, if it’s new on social media it never happened before.

But there are plenty of temporary structures around the pro tours. The top level of the stadium in Toronto isn’t … actually there the rest of the year. It’s temporary stands.

The beautiful, picturesque stadium in Monte Carlo, with the sea in the background, is actually THREE clay courts next to each other when the tournament is going on. All those stands are temporary. As are the ones at Queen’s Club for the WTA 500 event there on grass. And the one in Rio for the 500 there.

At the Citi Open in D.C. there is scaffolding everywhere during that week on the calendar.

Of course, in most cases, there’s more lead time.

The Cancún stadium, which looks bigger than we expected – the official capacity is 4,100 – looks rather like the one erected in Guadalajara the last few years for the WTA Finals in 2021, and the WTA 1000 the last two years. Except smaller.

You probably couldn’t really tell how temporary the Guadalajara is, because the scaffolding is covered up by banners. And, of course, it wasn’t being endlessly dissected in cyberspace.

But as lovely as it looks on TV …

…this is how it looks underneath.

But that one, like the one in Cancún, was built up from nothing. And it’s much bigger, too.

Here are some shots posted by the tournament on Facebook on Oct. 22, 2021, a few weeks before they hosted the WTA Finals there.

A similar situation in Merida in February, when a late decision was made to relocate the Guadalajara WTA 250 there – on the grounds of a country club, don’t you know – because of the big event happening later in the year.

Again – from the ground up. In a hurry. Photos also from Facebook.

We’re confident that the same people moaning that the stadium is “too small” are the same people who moaned a year ago in Fort Worth that the stadium was “too big”.

And it’s worth noting that the same father-son team, the Santescoys, own all of these Mexican events and have proven to not only be enthousiastic and gracious hosts to women’s tennis, but also have come to the rescue of the WTA over the last few years when the pandemic meant no China. All of the ragging is extremely disrespectful to them.

But no doubt quite a few people are breathing a sign of relief at the moment. So we’ll just have to see if this is another of the many challenges that have already popped up this week, and will probably continue to pop up.

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