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Tuesday, February 11
More prize money, change in format on top for WTA Championships


LONDON -- Women's tennis organizers will introduce a new format for their 2003 end-of-season championships in a bid to overcome the general apathy and lack of spectator support which plagued last year's event.

The WTA confirmed on Tuesday it would adopt a round-robin format -- similar to that used at the highly-successful men's showpiece -- for this year's $3 million event in November.

The top eight players in the race to the championships standings will qualify for the chance to win a record $1 million first prize -- topping the $900,000 earned by 2002 U.S. Open women's singles champion Serena Williams.

Competitors will be split into two groups of four players, each facing the other three players in her group, guaranteeing fans an opportunity to see each player compete at least three times.

The top two performers from each group will advance to the semifinals to play for a chance to win the $1 million.

"Our new format ensures that fans will be treated to the absolute biggest names and best rivalries that the WTA Tour has to offer," acting WTA Tour President and COO Josh Ripple said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The $1 million winner's prize only adds to the intrigue and drama of this unique event, and reflects the tremendous growth and success that women's tennis has enjoyed in the past year.

"This will be an event tennis fans won't want to miss."

Certainly that is the WTA's hope after a disappointing 2002 event.

After a 23-year, mostly successful, run in New York the event was taken from Madison Square Garden and moved to Munich for 2001 where it flopped miserably.

But the move back to the United States was greeted with an even bigger yawn, the vast majority of matches played out in front of a few hundred spectators sprinkled across the cavernous Staples Center, home of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and NHL's Kings.

The season-ending extravaganza is billed by the WTA as their world championships and touted as the sport's fifth grand slam but it unfolded more like a challenger tournament receiving scant attention from the fans and media.

"A lot of my friends had no idea why I was in town," three-times former winner Monica Seles said at the time.

"The first year is always hard but I think if they tough it out, they can build it up to what it was in New York at the Gardens."

The new format -- the event had been a straight 16-player knock-out competition -- and inflated first prize got the thumbs up from Jennifer Capriati.

"I think the format is good for a few reasons. Even if you lose a really tight, tough match, you'll be able to stay in the tournament with this format," the world number six said.

"It should be better for the fans too, with seeing some of the top players in more matches.

"As for the prize money, it's a pretty awesome amount. It just shows how strong women's tennis is and how it just keeps getting better."

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