Peter Johnston, senior vice-president of the WTA, speaks during the contract-signing ceremony in Taipei. (Photo/Keye Chang)
Taiwan will host the first-ever challenger event under the Women's Tennis Association in October, marking a new chapter in the country's efforts to promote the sport, the organizers said Thursday.
The US$100,000 OEC Taipei Ladies Open, now in its sixth year, has been upgraded to part of the WTA's new challenger series, with the prize money raised to US$125,000, said the OEC Group, sponsor of the tournament.
The OEC games will be held at Taipei Arena, a state-of-the-art venue, OEC president Robert Han said. The upgraded competition is expected to attract more outstanding international players, he said.
At a news conference in Taipei to announce the event, sports minister Tai Hsia-ling said she hopes the competition will "bring together international talent and facilitate exchange of technique and experience."
Also at the news conference, Taipei deputy mayor Tim Ting said the event is great for Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, which will host the 2017 Summer Universiade. Taiwan's tennis players have turned in outstanding performances in recent years, and they need more games and more competition to enhance their skills, Ting added.
The new WTA challenger series is aimed at offering extra opportunities for tennis players, said Peter Johnston, managing director of the WTA's Asia-Pacific region, who was in Taipei for the announcement. "We want to come to a city that embraces the tournament," Johnston said, explaining the decision to choose Taipei as the first stop in the new series.
"Tennis is growing here," Johnston told the local media. "We want to make sure the WTA is helping (that trend)." After Taipei, another city in Asia will be chosen to host the next WTA challenger this year, Johnston said, adding that further details will be announced soon.
The WTA tour is the world's leading professional sport for women, with over 2,400 players from 99 nations competing in more than 50 events for approximately US$90 million in prize money.