Mr Simon, you’ve been the WTA President since November. In the last ten years you were the tournament director in Indian Wells, a tournament that is generally considered to be a fifth Grand Slam. What excites you about your new position?
I believe the WTA has unrealised potential. I believe in the product and the athletes. Women’s tennis is already the number one women’s sport. I’d like to take our sport to an even higher level. 2017 will see the start of a new era. The ‘Perform’ platform will give us the chance to present women’s tennis even better. We’ll produce every match and it will go out to our viewership via all the different channels. There’ll be highlight shows, behind-the-scenes stories and all sorts of facts and statistics. The unique thing about the WTA Tour is that we can offer live contents almost every day, 44 weeks a year. It’s an unbeatable product.
In the past, the WTA has continually stressed the importance of attractiveness on court. For you personally, how important is the glamour factor?
Professional sport is entertainment. Just look at the Bundesliga, the Premier League in England, the NHL ice-hockey league in USA. We’re competing with these formats. And yes, we have attractive women who are a joy to watch. But as a fan I want even more. The audience is curious, it wants to know what the players eat for breakfast, what clothes they wear and find out about the day-to-day lives they lead. The competitive part of the game is one thing but people also want to know about the person behind the player. With our new platform, we have the chance to create curiosity. It’s critical if we are to not only attract the pure tennis fan but also a wide audience.
Will it be easier to create stars?
Much easier as we can not only transmit the contents via the traditional lineal form, television. We’ll transport tennis, even more than we’ve been doing until now, with the help of our network via all kinds of channels and go out to far more people. Players are living in an age in which they can’t say, I don’t want to let anybody into my private life .Fans expect to be given the chance to get to know their heroes better. At the same time, we have to protect our players. It’s vital they remain healthy. I’m in favour of easing the schedule. There has to be time for players to recover. And I’m very much in favour of combined tournaments. Tennis is successful everywhere where women and men play together.
How important are national heroes for the development of markets?
Extremely important. Li Na established tennis in China. She opened the doors for a whole number of players from all over Asia – by the way, for both women and men. There are now lots of tournaments in China. The country and region are in the same place as the established tennis nations in Europe and USA. It’s only a question of time before the next Asian star appears.
Your new “Power to inspire” campaign has the aim of developing new stars. How important are juniors for you?
The Tour has not only the responsibility of promoting and managing the highest levels. It’s in our basic interest to pave the way for talented youngsters. The “Power to inspire” campaign is designed to inspire young girls. It’s all about the power of positive thinking. We are telling them to follow their dreams. You can be what you want to be. You don’t have to be a tennis player in the end. Perhaps they’ll become a doctor or media person. However should they decide upon a career in professional tennis, then we’ll help them.
What does the campaign involve?
We developed the Future Stars program around the WTA Finals in Singapore. The girls playing in Singapore alongside the game’s big stars all qualified via regional tournaments. It was a fantastic experience for them to see their heroes first hand and to talk to them. We want to put the concept in place all over the world.
Within the German market, Porsche are supporting the juniors. How far does it fit in with your philosophy?
I’ve been to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix twice before, in the first year when it moved to Stuttgart and then two years ago. It’s amazing what Markus Günthardt and his team have done over this period. It’s a fan experience that is a role model for many other tournaments. For me, Stuttgart is without question a flagship event on the Tour and Porsche is a perfect example of a partner that has truly invested in tennis. It has a long tradition. There’s an obvious love of the game. As far as the junior team is concerned, it’s easy for a sponsor to give money and sit back. But Porsche has created something special for which they are to be commended. It’s closely associated with our product. Porsche invests in the sport and is getting something back through its successful players – no matter whether they’re juniors or established players.
The American has been the President of the WTA since November 30, 2015. The 60-year old previously worked for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells for 27 years – since 2004 as the Tournament Director and Chief Operating Officer.
Simon lives with his wife in St. Petersburg, Florida. He has two grown-up children who live in California – and a granddaughter. In 1981 Simon played in the mixed doubles in Wimbledon: “On the old court No. 1 with a wood racket and white balls.”
Text first published in “Porsche Tennis/Magazin 2016”.
By Andrej Antic // Photos by Paul Zimmer