WTA picks Singapore to host its tennis Championships from 2014

Image caption Russia's Maria Sharapova was a finalist at the 2012 Championships

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has named Singapore as the host for its annual end-of-season tour championships for five years from 2014.

The championship, held in the Turkish city of Istanbul between 2011 and 2013, is considered the most prestigious event after the four Grand Slams.

The other candidates were Monterrey, in Mexico, and China's Tianjin.

The top eight singles players and top eight doubles players will compete for record prize money of $6.5m (£4.2m).

That is up from $5.5m in 2012 and $6m in 2013,

Regional strategy

"This is the largest and most significant WTA Championships partnership in our history. It's a record-breaker," said WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster.

World Sport Group (WSG), a subsidiary of Lagardere Unlimited, with support from the Singapore Sports Council and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), represented Singapore for the winning bid.

The Singapore move is part of the WTA's stated goal of expanding women's tennis in the Asia-Pacific region.

"That was definitely one of the elements behind our decision," the WTA's Allaster told the BBC. "We want to enhance and grow our strategy in the region, with a focus on south-east Asia."

She said the award of the event to Singapore gave the country "another strategic asset" to put alongside its F1 race.

The current champion is Serena Williams, who beat Maria Sharapova in the 2012 final.

The event was first staged in 1972 and has been hosted in cities including Los Angeles, New York City, Munich, Madrid, Doha and currently Istanbul.

'Sports industry'

The move to Singapore follows other big name sports events being held there, including the Formula One Grand Prix, golf's HSBC Women's Champions and the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.

The state-of-the-art $1bn Singapore Sports Hub, located in the centre of the city, will host the championships at the 7500-seat, Singapore Indoor Stadium.

The WTA and organisers say they are looking to change the event from a tennis championships into a wider entertainment programme, with new features such as WTA Future Stars, WTA legends exhibition matches, concerts, coaching, trade symposiums, a Women in Business Leadership Conference, and daily fan festivals open to the public.

There will also be VIP events up for grabs for fans.

She said the winning bid team were "very entrepreneurial" and shared the WTA's thoughts about making the championships a leisure and lifestyle event, as well as a tennis one.

"This is an excellent opportunity for the sports industry to showcase its capabilities in hosting world class events," said Lim Teck Yin, chief executive of the Singapore Sports Council.

And analyst Ben Heyhoe Flint, head of Asia-Pacific at Fuse, Omnicom Media Group's sports and entertainment division, called the announcement "a feather in the cap" for Singapore.

"It is really impressive that they have managed to get this in the bag... it is the year-end event of a major sport," he said.

"And to get the top eight players in the world in your back yard can only be good news for everyone - the economy, tourism and brand Singapore"

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