World No 1 admits she ‘doesn’t feel safe’ as the WTA come under fire from star players

Aryna Sabalenka in action
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during a match

The WTA Finals got off to a rocky start on Sunday, with some of the game’s leading players ripping into the organisers once again.

World No 1 Aryna Sabalenka was among those who hit out at the WTA over the organisation of the WTA Finals in Mexico, saying she feels “disrespected”.

Cancun was announced as the host of the governing body’s showpiece event less than two months ago, with the first matches taking place on Sunday night.

World No 1 Sabalenka easily defeated Maria Sakkari 6-0, 6-1 but took to social media afterwards to criticise the arrangements for players, who were only able to practise in the temporary arena for the first time on Saturday.

Writing on Instagram, Sabalenka said: “I’m happy that I was able to stay focused tonight, overcome the conditions, and play well.

“I have to say, though, that I am very disappointed with the WTA and the experience so far at the WTA Finals. As a player, I feel really disrespected by the WTA. I think most of us do.

“This is not the level of organisation we expect for the Finals. To be honest, I don’t feel safe moving on this court a lot of the time, the bounce is not consistent at all, and we weren’t able to practise on this court until yesterday for the first time.

“It’s just not acceptable to me with so much on the line and so much at stake.”

A highly lucrative deal with Shenzhen to stage the WTA Finals began in 2019 but was disrupted by Covid-19 and has not resumed following the tour’s break from China over the disappearance of Peng Shuai.

READ MORE: Aryna Sabalenka’s year-end No 1 ranking bid: How many matches does she still need to win?

This is the third year in a row that a late decision has been made about the host of the tournament, with Guadalajara stepping in in 2021 before it headed to Fort Worth in Texas last year, where the main headlines were about poor attendance.

There had been intense speculation this year that the WTA Finals would head to Saudi Arabia, and the one-year deal with Cancun has very much left the door open for next season and beyond.

Sabalenka won the first 11 games before Sakkari, a replacement for the injured Karolina Muchova in the season-ending championships, got on the board.

American Jessica Pegula fought back from a break down in the first set to beat world number four Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-2.

Trailing 5-3, Pegula won four games in a row to clinch the first set and continued her record of not losing a match this year after going a set-up.

Rybakina then launched her own attack on the playing conditions, in what is a real challenge for WTA chiefs.

“Overall, it’s not easy here. Everyone is struggling,” said Rybakina. “Everyone is trying to do their best. As I said, I’m not really happy with the conditions & the set up of the tournament.

“About the court, I don’t really want to talk. But of course, it’s not good. For sure not for the WTA Finals because everything was late & there was no time to fix anything.

“You can see by the rallies and the shanks we both hit. I think the quality of the match wasn’t the greatest. But as I said, I tried to do my best.”

Play in the other group begins on Monday night with world No 2 Iga Swiatek taking on Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova before US Open champion Coco Gauff meets Ons Jabeur.