WTA to lengthens offseason, pare top-level events

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- The WTA Tour approved a streamlined
tournament schedule beginning in 2009 that will include a longer
offseason and fewer top-level events, with the changes designed to
increase player participation and reduce injuries.

The number of Tier I and Tier II events will be cut to 20 from
26, and the offseason will expand to nine weeks from seven, the
women's tour said Tuesday.

Players will be required to participate in four events -- Key
Biscayne, Indian Wells and new tournaments in Madrid and Beijing.

"Players deserve a longer offseason and healthier schedule so
that they can avoid injury and fatigue," said Larry Scott, chief
executive officer of the WTA Tour. "And in return, fans deserve to
see more players consistently performing at their best."

In a separate move by the men's tour, the ATP board approved
Shanghai as the site of a Masters Series tournament starting in
2009. Shanghai has hosted the men's season-ending Tennis Masters
Cup three times, and it will be held there in 2007-08 before moving
to a new location.

"China is a major growth market for tennis and it is vital for
the sport to have premium events in its major cities, ideally on a
continuing basis," ATP executive chairman and president Etienne de
Villiers said.

The women's event in Beijing -- site of the 2008 Olympics -- will
be a nine-day tournament.

"I am really excited that Beijing will be the home of one of
the tour's biggest and most important events," said Zheng Jie of
China, ranked No. 32. "Women's tennis has become incredibly
popular in China and will only get bigger in the years to come."

The women's season-ending Tour Championships will move to
October from November to lengthen the offseason.

"We kept fighting a lot and discussed with Larry and the board to have a longer break in the winter, so I think it's great. It's great news," said Justine Henin, the world's No. 1 ranked player. "Like Larry explained, the fans deserve to see the best players in the world in bigger events, so we are all very excited about that. Two more years to wait and it's going to be very exciting for everyone."

The WTA Tour also announced a prize-money increase and stiffer
penalties for players who skip mandatory events. Prize money will
grow to an estimated $72 million in 2009, 30 percent more than this
year, the tour said. Top-10 players failing to play at tournaments
as required will be subject to suspensions and larger fines than in
the past.

The 20 premier events under the streamlined schedule include:

• Eight in North America -- Charleston, Cincinnati, Indian Wells,
Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal-Toronto, New Haven, Stanford.

• Seven in Europe -- Berlin, Eastbourne, Madrid, Moscow, Paris,
Rome, Stuttgart.

• Five in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East -- Beijing, Doha, Dubai,
Sydney, Tokyo.

• The four Grand Slam events -- the Australian Open, French Open,
Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- are in addition to that.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.