Jessica Pegula says she would like to see “some sort of change or action” in order to feel comfortable competing in Saudi Arabia, should the WTA choose to hold an event there in the future.
Pegula was speaking as the WTA prepares to decide on the location of the WTA Finals, its flagship event, which is due to take place between 30 October and 5 November.
“I think that if you look at a pros and cons list, we’d obviously have to see there be a lot of pros outweighing the cons to feel comfortable going there, whether that’s seeing them as a group maybe have to donate money to women’s sports or women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, to see some sort of change or action going towards helping those causes in their country,” said Pegula, who is a member of the WTA player council. “I think that would be something really important that, if we did end up going there, we would want to see.”
The WTA board is due to vote on its location in New York, with Riyadh, Prague and Washington among the cities bidding for the event. On Thursday, the ATP announced their first event in Saudi Arabia, with this year’s NextGen ATP Finals, an event for players aged under 21, relocating from Milan to Jeddah.
Before the pandemic, the WTA Finals had been held in Shenzhen, China, with the 2019 edition awarding Ashleigh Barty, its champion, record prize money of $4.42m. With China inaccessible for three years during the pandemic, the event had been held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2021 and Fort Worth in the United States last year, with reduced prize money.
Asked for their opinions on competing in Saudi Arabia before the imminent vote, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff opted not to comment before a decision is made on the WTA Finals. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, however, expressed her enthusiasm about the prospect of tennis in Saudi Arabia: “As an Arab player, I’m very excited to be there,” said Jabeur. “I am someone pushing for a change, pushing to give more and more opportunities especially for women. I know in Saudi they’re changing things and they’re evolving. I’ve been there last year to give a speech and interview there. It was very nice meeting a lot of amazing women. For me, I was trying to push to have something, tennis, there in Saudi.”
Daria Kasatkina, who travels and vlogs with her girlfriend, Natalia Zabiiako, has been the most critical voice on a possible tournament in Saudi Arabia. At Wimbledon, Kasatkina expressed her concerns. “It’s easier for the men because they feel pretty good there,” said Kasatkina. “We don’t feel the same way. So it’s going to be, let’s say, money talks in our world right now. For me, I don’t think that everything is about the money. Unfortunately not everything is dependent just on us, and particularly me.”