Madrid the new host for women's event

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The Independent Online

The end-of-season WTA Tour Championships will been switched from Los Angeles, where it has been a flop for live crowds, to Madrid next year.

The $3m tournament features the top eight women in singles and four doubles teams. The championships this year will be held in November at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where attendance has been sparse in the past three years.

The announcement was made in the front room of a big house a long-volley from Wimbledon's All England Club by the Women's Tennis Association's new sponsor Sony Ericsson, which is disappointed with the audience response to the equivalent of the ATP Men's Masters Cup, held on the west coast of America for the past three years.

There was plenty of television coverage for the event and it is likely to be the same this year in November. But crowd numbers at the championships venue were poor, considering the leading names like Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were involved in the indoor hardcourt tournament.

International print media coverage abroad was also disappointing due mostly to problematic time-zones. So 18 cities were approached worldwide to take over and Madrid, still with an eye on hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, came out on top.

The only previous occasion the tournament has been taken out of America was in 2001 when it went to Munich after 23 years in New York. But despite Lindsay Davenport again being the world No 1 player, the Russian invasion headed by Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova plus the success of the Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters places 15 European players among the top 20 of the Porsche Race to the Championships which decides the eight players who qualify for the event.

The French player Amelie Mauresmo, the world No 3, said: "It is great for me and the other European players that the championships will be in Madrid. It is a great place for atmosphere, culture and a great history of tennis."

Larry Scott, the WTA chief executive officer, said: "One of the key reasons for a move from Los Angeles to Europe was to broaden the media exposure. The time-zones are difficult. Even the media on the east coast of the US, as well as the whole of the European media, felt a bit shut out from the championships."

Scott said that the WTA would consider moving its championships to Asia in the future. "There is a growing interest in Asia because the dynamic there is so exciting. We've got young, up-and-coming players who are capturing the imagination of the sporting public.

"There's trade-offs. Asia is not bad at all for the European perspective. It's very difficult for the US. So the move to Europe makes it difficult for Asia but it's fabulous for Europe and still pretty good for the US."