November 05, 2011

WTA Championships at Istanbul: A Success

"Brilliant" was frequently the term used by the commentators on Eurosport, Sam Smith and Chris Bradley, to describe the Sinan Erdem Arena in Istanbul and the atmosphere created in it by the spectators during the year-ending TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships. I can comfortably concur with these gentlemen. The tournament is not yet over at the time of writing this article; Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka have yet to play the final match. However, there is no need to wait for the final match to confirm that from an organizational point of view, the tournament has been declared by all parties concerned as a complete success.

The Turkish Tennis Federation (TTF) and the organizers knew the tall order they would face when they won the bid to host the WTA Championships three years in a row. The problem was not that Istanbul was not used to hosting this type of event. In fact, the same arena hosted the 2010 FIBA World Championships, won by the American team; in 2005, UEFA Champions League final match took place here between AC Milan and Liverpool; Istanbul also hosts a yearly Formula 1 grand Prix event, and a WTA regular tour event. Furthermore, Istanbul is a city with high ambitions: it's bidding to host the 2020 Olympics.

The challenges were of a different nature. How to create a more successful WTA Championships than the previous ones? How to overcome the nation-wide sadness created by the very recent earthquake in the city of Van that killed hundreds of people? How to bring tennis to the front of the sports pages where soccer usually reigns? How to sell tickets in the absence of the Williams sisters? More importantly, how to make this event a success in country where tennis ranks in popularity about where water polo ranks in the U.S.? When I talked yesterday to Erhan Oral, ex-Davis Cup player and ex-Fed Cup coach for Turkey, he was astonished that in Turkey where the term "tennis culture" has not yet "found its true meaning," the event was already sold-out for the weekend matches and that it was averaging over 10,000 spectators per day.

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