WTA chief believes Serena Willaims’s presence is inspiring next generation of champions

Shahida Jacobs
Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams US Open

WTA President Micky Lawler believes the next generation of superstars has proved they are ready to fill the void that will be left in the women’s game when Serena Williams calls time on her record-breaking career.

Williams will end 2019 without adding to her haul of 23 Grand Slam titles, yet Lawler believes her presence alongside sister Venus as enduring legends still playing at the highest level has helped to inspire the next generation of champions.

Serena lost to Simona Halep in the Wimbledon final in July this year and came out second best once again as Bianca Andreescu won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in September, yet she remains a force in the game and will be a contender for all four Grand Slam titles once again in 2020.

Serena Williams congratulates SImona Halep at Wimbledon
Serena Williams congratulates SImona Halep at Wimbledon

Speaking exclusively to Tennis365, respected WTA chief Lawler paid tribute to the game’s enduring legend, as she told us the next era of the women’s game can be even more captivating than the era dominated by the Williams sisters.

“What is really cool about this era is we still have Serena and Venus as very active leaders of our game, playing at a time when we have this wonderful new generation of stars coming through,” she said. “To see Serena and Venus playing against these new stars is a wonderful spectacle.

“We are seeing an evolution of champions. Elina Svitolina, Karolína Plíšková, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep are established champions and we also have the next generation of Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu all here after winning Grand Slam titles in 2019.

“Looking back three years, I recall the questions being asked about what happens when Serena retires. Obviously, it goes without saying that she is irreplaceable as she is a champion like no other, but it’s really great to see the next generation of stars coming up and being so phenomenal.”

Lawler has been a pivotal figure in bringing the WTA Finals to Shenzhen in China for the first time this year, with the $14m prize pot on offer for the eight qualifiers substantially more than the top men in the world will compete for at the ATP Finals in London next month.

“We are all so excited to be a Shenzhen,” confirms Micky. “We have been working on this for a long time and I just can’t believe the moment has finally arrived and the WTA Finals are here.

“The court looks fantastic, the whole team have worked so hard to bring this to fruition and we are so excited by the show we are putting on. The media centre looks amazing, the arena is fantastic and this will come through on TV.

“We had five cities very interested in staging this event and it was a very tough decision for us to make. Shenzhen as a city is a really exciting destination because it has 20 million inhabitants, it is a technology hub that has some massive companies here and the average age of inhabitants here is under 30, so it is a wonderfully dynamic city.

“The line-up of players we have in the WTA Finals this year is just spectacular and we are preparing for one of the best events we’ve ever seen. This is a historic time for the women’s game and to play a tournament with $14m of prize money at stake, who would have imagined we would be in this position a few years ago.”

Picking a WTA Player of the Year is a tough task after so many great stories in the women’s game, with Lawler suggesting the shining star of 2019 may be crowned after the WTA Finals.

“We have so many contenders to be Player of the Year,” adds Lawler. “Naomi (Osaka) and Bianca (Andreescu) have to be strong contenders, along with Simona (Halep) and Ashleigh (Barty).

“We have just named some pretty remarkable women who all have a good chance to be named as Player of the Year. The players are great on the WTA of giving something back to the fans and are so engaged in giving something back to the sport.”

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer

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