How’s this for a sequence of events?
*Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova is set to return to the WTA Tour after serving a 15-month doping suspension.
*The expiration of her suspension comes smack in the middle of a Premier-level WTA Tour event sponsored by Porsche. Which just happens to also be a one of Sharapova’s sponsors.
*The tournament, of course, is the first to offer Sharapova, who had no ranking, a wild card.
*A little problem arises. Technically, Sharapova shouldn’t be allowed to play in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix because per the WTA rules, as of the start of the event, she was still under suspension and therefore not “available to play.”
*No problem at all! The WTA tweaks its rule slightly – or, if you like, clarifies them. Since it’s a 28-player draw with as many as five first-round matches being played as late as Wednesday, all systems were go!
*The opening ceremonies on Monday, which celebrated the tournament’s 40th anniversary, were a nice photo op for WTA Tour CEO Steve Simon and Porsche CEO Oliver Blume. They shook hands over plaques and whatnot, with a Porsche for background interest.
*Wednesday, the tickets for the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore went on sale, just as Sharapova made her return to the court after her long absence.
And the Porsche pièce de résistance…
*Sunday, before the Stuttgart women’s final, the WTA Tour announced – wait for it – a newly expanded sponsorship deal with Porsche.
The auto manufacturer already had been the “official automotive sponsor” of the Singapore event. Now, it will become the title sponsor for the “Road to Singapore,” which keeps track of the race for the eight singles and doubles qualifying spots at the year-end championship.
It will now be the “Porsche Race to Singapore.” Which actually is a natural fit.
The player who finishes No. 1 in the race will win a new Porsche 911 GTS Cabriolet (retail value: about $140,000 US).
She doesn’t even have to win the tournament.
Logo update scramble
The deal must have come together quickly; the WTA Tour hasn’t even yet had time to update its websites to replace the old (unsponsored) logos with the new sponsored ones.
Meanwhile, the contenders in the new Porsche road/race didn’t exactly light it up at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, seeded No. 2 in Stuttgart, went out in the quarterfinals to wild card Laura Siegemund (No. 73 in the race, but she’ll move up). Caroline Wozniacki didn’t play it at all. Johanna Konta lost in the second round to Anastasija Sevastova (No. 23). Serena Williams, we know. But she had never entered anyway.
Williams has played the Porsche event just twice, way back in 2007 and 2008. She also played it in 1999 when it was technically in Filderstadt. She has won just two matches there in her career.
Meanwhile, Sharapova will enter the Porsche road race Monday, at about No. 116.
She has plenty of time to jump into the top eight and qualify – especially given the inconsistent results from nearly all of the top players. But if she doesn’t, would it shock anyone if they somehow figured out a way to get her a wild card? Just a little rules tweak, or clarification. No big deal.
After all, it’s all in the (Porsche) family!