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New WTA Boss Steve Simon On Serena, Fallen Stars And His Vision For The Game

New WTA CEO Steve Simon has received endorsements from Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Maria Sharapova. Billie Weiss/BNP Paribas Open

Steve Simon said he will return to Southern California after this job in Florida -- and across the globe -- is completed. But the new CEO of the WTA said he is in no rush to retire from a position he "jumped on" quickly after receiving the offer.

At 60, Simon, the father of two and grandfather of a little girl, received endorsements from the top names in the game, including Serena Williams and WTA founder Billie Jean King, who called Simon "the right person for the job."

Simon, who accepted a job at the Indian Wells tournament in 1989 and has been the tournament director and COO since 2004, played tennis at Long Beach State and then kicked around the Challenger and satellite circuits before going to work for Adidas.

He answered questions about his upcoming challenge and the state of women's tennis in a phone interview Monday with espnW.com.

espnW: What are your general thoughts and reaction to taking over the top job in women's tennis?

Simon: The WTA board called me a couple days after Stacey Allaster decided to step back and asked me if I would consider it. ... It humbled me to be asked and I said I'd like to take a shot at it because I think it's a unique opportunity to be provided a platform to maybe improve the game, the sport and the business and take it to new places, and you don't get that opportunity very often. I certainly didn't want to regret not taking it. There are no guarantees it will be successful, but you don't get an opportunity like this very often. I decided to jump on it and I'm very much looking forward to getting to work.

espnW: One of the biggest sports stories of the year was Serena Williams' return to Indian Wells. How do you look back on that? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

Simon: We were very pleased with the way it worked out and the credit goes to Serena. She handled it like a pro and the person she is with great integrity. We always felt fans would be very excited to see her back, which they were, and they showed that. It turned out to be very, very positive.

espnW: Speaking of Serena, at 33, she was two victories away from accomplishing one of the greatest feats in sports this year. Now 34, she has elected to rest her injuries and, she said, a bit of a broken heart, and sit out the remainder of the year. How do you prepare for the post-Serena era, whenever it comes?

Simon: It's part of sports. We do have transitions and we have great champions that do at some point retire and move on, and she is certainly getting closer to that stage. We don't know when exactly that will be yet. We'll certainly miss her in Singapore at the Championships and they're missing her this week in China, but she has to get herself right and ready to play. Hopefully she'll be excited and ready to go in 2016, which she indicated wants to do. And hopefully we'll see her continue for -- I'm going to go bold here and say -- the next 10 years. But she needs to come back right and healthy and ready to go again.

espnW: This year has ended with many top players petering out after the US Open in a series of retirements and withdrawals due to injury. How do you view the current format and eight-week offseason in women's tennis?

Simon: I think you have to continue addressing it and evolving it. The changes (a longer offseason and fewer Tier 1 events) that were made in 2009 ... had a positive effect with the injury numbers lessening since pre-2009. I think overall in tennis, the athleticism that's coming into the game is definitely taking its toll on the athletes because matches are becoming so much more strenuous, especially for the ones who are playing deep every week. ... We have to look at the structure and give [players] that opportunity to get calculated rest so, as much as possible, they can finish the end of the year as strongly as they began the year. ... We have to be open to evolution. Change scares people, but we have to evolve and continue adjusting in ways that make sense. Our athletes are our product and if they're not on the court, we don't have a product.

espnW: How important is it that women's tennis has American players at the top of the rankings, particularly after Serena and Venus Williams retire?

Simon: Obviously, America is a huge market and the market drives across regions. But this is an international sport, and as important as American stars are, it is equally as important that we have strong European and Asian-Pacific players and from other regions of the world. Being an international circuit, we need local stars as well to drive popularity in those regions. But what we're looking for are not just stars in each region but stars with personalities that can be conveyed across regions. If you look at Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, they have immense popularity across regions. And Serena certainly has done that on the women's side, driving business and ticket sales. ... Obviously, to have future Americans to replace Serena and Venus will be important.

espnW: How did you sell yourself to the WTA? What is your philosophy in regard to the sport?

Simon: It's the philosophy I've used in Indiana Wells and I truly believe in and will bring with me [to the WTA], and that is about a focus on delivering a product that represents premium and excellence. It is about a product that's going to deliver an experience to fans, partners, media, staff that is nothing less than the best. And it will be about innovations and evolving the business. ... At the end of the day, we want a product and an organization people want to consume, align with and invest in.