One-on-one with the WTA Director Melissa Pine
ABS-CBN Sports on Sep 19, 2016 02:27 PM
WTA Asia Pacific Vice President and Tournament Director Melissa Pine believes that Asia could definitely produce elite tennis talent.
Over the weekend, the WTA touched down on Philippine soil to conduct their Future Stars camp at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City.
Also making the trip to the country was WTA Asia Pacific Vice President and WTA Finals Tournament Director Melissa Pine, who sat down with ABS-CBN Sports to discuss a few topics regarding their Future Stars camp here in the country, as well as the growth of Tennis in Southeast Asia.
A former collegiate and professional player herself back in the day, Pine has taken tennis in Asia to new heights, with her most recognizable achievement being bringing the WTA Finals in Singapore, which happened to be the most successful one.
See what else she had to say!
ABS-CBN Sports: For those who aren’t too familiar, would you like to introduce to the people what the WTA is?
Melissa Pine: The WTA is the Women’s Tennis Association, we’re the leading professional global sport for women, and we have 55 events in 33 countries around the world, comprising of the WTA Tour. The WTA Finals is our crown jewel event, it’s our season finale, it’s where the top-eight singles players and the top-eight doubles teams in the world qualify for seven million dollars in prize money.
A: What was the motivation behind bringing the WTA to the Philippines?
MP: Our program, which is called the WTA Future Stars, this is a new program, it’s in its third year now in the Asia Pacific, it’s a grassroots program to really help the youth, to reach out and help develop under-14, under-16 players, and to help them be able to learn what it’s like to be able to play in the pro tour, and this program is really, it’s due to the fact that the WTA Finals is here in Asia, in Singapore, first time in history we’ve had our crown jewel in Asia. So through that, we want to develop grassroots, we want to grow the sport and get more kids playing, so we’re here in the Philippines because we’re conducting a clinic with kids and introducing them to tennis, the pathways in the sport, living a healthy life, and really, just how to live better through sports.
The Philippines is also doing an exceptional job with the WTA Future Stars qualifying events within the country. So right now we have 18 countries that compete within the country and send their best players to Singapore to compete on the same stage as the top-eight in the world. These young girls get mentoring opportunities from the stars, they get to participate in official ceremonies, so it really is a life-changing event for them.
Here in the Philippines, the tennis association in partnership with Cebuana Lluhiller, is doing a fantastic job of creating the Cebuana Lluhillier Tennis Challenge across the Philippines, it’s really reaching wide throughout the country, so that everyone has a chance to compete and qualify in various different cities around the country, and this is really gonna help to grow the sport, and that commitment from the sponsors is really important to grow tennis.
A: How has tennis been recieved in Southeast Asia, especially here in the Philippines and in Singapore, since you were able to hold the WTA Finals there?
MP: Tennis in Asia has never been better than it is right now. It’s definitely on an upward trajectory. The WTA Finals in Singapore has been the most successful WTA Finals in history, it had 130,000 fans come through, the event had digital reach records, broadcast reach records, and it has just been a huge success.
Our footprint in Asia started in 2008, and that’s when we opened an office in Beijing. At that time, we had just two events, one being the China Open, one of the major events of the WTA. Fast-forward eight years, now we have ten events in China alone, and we have nineteen events in the Asia Pacific, so with 55 tournaments, 19 represents quite a nice chunk, so it is evident that the investment in the sport in Asia has really increased. Participation has really increased, obviously with the emergence of grand slam winners like Li Na, she’s been able to inspire a whole region.
I think there’s definitely a correlation between the amount of events that a city or country or region hosts and the growth of the sport, so we’re really seeing, with all these new events, more and more people participating, more and more fans, more and more people getting exposed to the sport and therefore are getting interested. I think we will see a lot more top players emerging in the future. We have about six players in the top-100 now, from Asia, so that’s a good sign.
A: You touched on the WTA Finals in Singapore being the most successful, how did the idea of bringing your crown jewel to Singapore come about?
MP: We did a full-fledged bidding process, and we had over 40 cities around the world that expressed interest in hosting, and then through the process we narrowed it down to five, then to three, and Singapore was definitely the hands-down winner. It was a lot to do with our incredible partners that we have in Singapore that share the same visions. Sport Singapore has a Vision 2030, which is “Live better through sport.”, they were really looking to bring in an event such as the WTA Finals to help with living better through sport, to promote health and wellness, to promote equality and empowement of women. The WTA really stands for all of those things, so having partners that share your vision is very very important, but also other areas like infrastructure, exceptional infrastructure in Singapore, a 1.4 billion dollar sports hub that was opened a year and a half, two years ago. It’s a great facility, it’s a clean and safe country, so there are many things you have to evaluate when brining such a major event into a country, but it is definitely monumental, historic, it’s the first time that it’s been held in Asia.
A: How about the talent here in the Philippines? Have you been able to see the players here and what can you say about them?
MP: Absolutely! Tennis in the Philippines is big, there’s an appetite for tennis here. You can tell that the fans are hungry for it, there’s incredible talent here, we’ve seen the WTA Future Stars, the under-14 and under 16 come to Singapore and compete in the event, and I think it’s only gonna get better, especially when you have commitment from a sponsor. They have the power to grow something, to be able to build programs and tournaments that can inspire kids and get them out playing, and the more kids playing, the more chances you will have for a star to rise and emerge, so I think there’s so much potential here. We’ve seen in such a short time with the WTA Future Stars, so much interest so much growth, more and more players coming out, so it’s on a very good path and we look forward to what’s in store for the Philippines. Maybe a WTA event in the future.
A: Is it safe to say that we can see the WTA Future Stars camp back in the Philippines again next year and in the years to come?
MP: Absolutely, I don’t see why not!