While the BNP Paribas WTA Finals are just around the corner (from the 17th to the 26th of October), we decided to go back on five anecdotes that made the history of a legendary event of the tour. A tournament that changed of host cities seven times, which was the favourite tournament of Martina Navratilova and of which the final has long been played in three winning sets. Cabinet of wonders.
1/ «I’m not making money with tennis»
Boca Raton. A prosperous and sunny Florida resort that hosts throughout the year a wealthy clientele. Nothing absurd, therefore, for this city to be chosen in 1972, to host the first WTA finals. At the time, tennis was still reserved to an elite and the tournament was held on clay. Some $ 100 000 were brought into play: a record compensation in women's sports. On the courts, Chris Evert, 17, won easily but had to give up the check for 25,000 dollars promised to the winner. The reason? Her amateur status prohibited her to be paid for her sports results. "I am very tempted to take it. It is very difficult to refuse that kind of money,” said the player in The Ledger. “But that doesn't bother me so much as one might think that money is a source of motivation for me, while I haven't lost any matches since I stopped making money with tennis.” A prehistoric species.
2/ « I added the credits to a film which was becoming too long »
Since its creation, all the winners of the WTA finals have been world number one at some point in their careers. At least once. All, with the exception of Gabriela Sabatini (1988 and 1993), Jana Novotna (1997), Petra Kvitova (2011) and Sylvia Hanika (1982). For the latter, the feat was even more praiseworthy: she is the only one amongst her pals to have never won a Grand Slam tournament. In 1982, however, for what remains the greatest title her career, she crushed in the finals the boss of the tennis world at the time, Martina Navratilova, ending her series of 21 consecutive victories. Following this success, Sylvia Hanika said: "I added the credits at the end of a film which was becoming too long."
3/ « Well then, let us play in 5 sets »
Monica Seles against Gabriela Sabatini, WTA finals, 1990, New York. Or the first match of women's tennis to be played in five sets. The introduction of matches in three winning sets for women, an idea adopted in 1984 but which never really worked. After two more finals in five sets in 1995 between Graf and Huber, and another the following year between Graf and Hingis, the direction of the WTA decided to switch from 3 to 2 winning sets in 1999. To the dismay of Martina Navratilova: "The argument of the International Federation that we wouldn’t be able to play five sets like the men do is obvious, we saw it. Besides, we told them, 'Well, let us play 5 sets. They replied: 'We don't want to, it's just too hard for you women...' I'm sure that now, players can keep up, no problem. They just don't want to increase our prize money, that's all."
4/ Martina Navratilova, her 20 titles and her artistic talent
"The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed." Yes, Martina Navratilova has entertained the world for her tennis, her weird glasses and her guest appearances on survivalist reality TV much more than for her hesitant way with words. In terms of prize list, the Czechoslovak, who became an American citizen in 1981, holds the record for the most victories in the history of the WTA Championship Tour, both in singles (eight victories) and in doubles (twelve, including ten with Pam Shriver). Today she even puts her artistic talents to the test since she's the one who designed the trophy that will be awarded to the winners of the doubles event this year: "I think that the result is pretty good. I followed my first idea, which was to express that you need to be two to play in doubles." Good point.
5/ « Stranger than frustrating»
A WTA Tour Championship without finals is like Rafael Nadal and his cropped trousers, it works just fine without, but with it, it's much better. In 2001 in Munich, Serena Williams won without a fight the WTA finals, because of the withdrawal of her compatriot Lindsay Davenport, who had injured her right knee. Nevertheless, this last step ensured to Davenport the hot spot of World No. 1 for the end of season: "At the end of the day, I wish that I had lost and that the finals had happened. It's unlucky for everyone, the worst way to end the season", "Winning a match this way, it's stranger than frustrating. This has never happened to me" said Williams who, in the afternoon, was about to play an exhibition match against the German Anke Huber, who had just retired, in order to please the public and justify the 831,000 euros pocketed for winning the WTA finals after playing only three matches...