American world number four Jessica Pegula said doing business with Saudi Arabia can help the WTA in its quest to ensure equal prize money but it will carefully evaluate following other sports to the Gulf state.
Saudi Arabia has pumped huge amounts of money into soccer, Formula One and boxing in recent years while the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit recently ended its two-year dispute with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour by announcing a merger.
WTA chairman Steve Simon said on Friday there were still “big issues” with Saudi Arabia as potential hosts for WTA events and the governing body of women’s tennis had not yet made any decisions or entered into negotiations with the country.
“I’m sure we’ll talk and go about it,” WTA player council member Pegula told reporters ahead of Wimbledon.
Men and women get equal prize money at the four Grand Slams. WTA Tour events, however, have often offered less prize money than those on the separate men’s ATP circuit, but the WTA last week announced plans to address the issue with a new strategy.
“If they (Saudi Arabia) could help getting us to equal prize money, though there are negatives, there’s a lot of positives that can come out of it,” Pegula added.
“Hopefully we don’t just look at the negatives and we can see the positives. Hopefully something good comes out of it the right way.”
Men’s ATP Tour chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said last month he held discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and other potential investors on projects including infrastructure, events and technology investment.
Critics have accused Saudi Arabia of using the PIF to engage in “sportwashing” amid criticism of its human rights record. The country denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.
Men’s world number one Carlos Alcaraz said he would have no doubts about competing there, while former Grand Slam champion John McEnroe said tennis should not seek Saudi investment.
Twice Wimbledon champion Andy Murray said he would have to think twice about playing in Saudi Arabia after refusing in the past to participate in exhibition events there.
“It’s tough because… there’s obviously issues there. I also think there’s issues in a lot of countries. Sometimes things don’t get talked about as well,” Pegula said.
“… I trust Steve to make the right decision on what he feels is best for the WTA.”