WTA sponsor may pull out

DOHA - Serena Williams heads for 2010 as world No 1 and WTA Championships, Australian Open and Wimbledon champ, but there's a worrying storm gathering over women's tennis.

The new year should spark a celebration of marquee match-ups where the Williams sisters renew their epic rivalry with the returning of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.

Hopes are also high for a fully fit Maria Sharapova to grace more tennis courts than red carpets, while Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka lead the new generation.

Williams pocketed $1,55million (R12,1million) for relieving sister Venus of her WTA Championships title at Doha on Sunday, but it wasn't the only mind-boggling sum giving the WTA headaches.

The deadline for a renewal of the tour's $88million, six-year agreement with title sponsor Sony Ericsson is the end of the year, but the global financial crisis is never far from sports' front doors.

"We are looking at our sponsorship seriously. We haven't made any decision yet, and all options are open," said Aldo Ligouri, vice-president and head of global communications at Sony Ericsson.

When the deal was signed in 2005, it represented a much-needed boost for the WTA, which had been without a title sponsor in 2003 and 2004.

However, Ericsson recently reported a 74percent fall in net profit blamed on falling sales and problems at its Sony Ericsson venture.

If that wasn't enough, there are signs that the WTA Roadmap, designed to protect the long-term health of its top stars, may not be having the desired effect.

The $4,55million (R35,5million) WTA Championships featured the world's top eight players.

By the end of the week, however, 10 had taken part with one alternate even being replaced by another.

Tearful Dinara Safina lasted just two games and 12 minutes, losing her world No 1 spot while Wozniacki and Azarenka quit before the end of their involvement. - Sapa-AFP