The Strange and Tragic Start to the Wuhan Open's Existence

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2015

Retired player Li Na and Martina Hingis pose before the 2015 Wuhan Open in China.
Retired player Li Na and Martina Hingis pose before the 2015 Wuhan Open in China.Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

A mysterious death is by far the most tragic incident associated with the WTA Tour's Wuhan Open. However, it's one of many strange and unfortunate occurrences to mar the tournament in only its second year.

Last week, Robin Llyr Evans, 21, died while working as a systems operator for Britain-based Hawk-Eye Innovations, the company that provides tracking software used to review calls in tennis matches. After Evans' death, Hawk-Eye Innovations packed up its crew and left the tournament.

This left Wuhan, a premier event with $2,212,250 in prize money at stake, without the use of Hawk-Eye. 

Hawk-Eye Innovations released a statement, via the Daily Post, "We are devastated to confirm that there has been a tragic incident in Wuhan, China resulting in the death of a UK based Hawk-Eye employee. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time."

When contacted by Bleacher Report, the WTA responded with a quote from Tour President Micky Lawler, "We're deeply saddened by the tragic accident that took place. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family." 

Neither the cause of death or details about the incident have been made public. 

It's the latest black eye on what is supposed to be a sparkling example of the WTA's successful expansion in Asia.

The increase in tournaments and exposure in Asia is part of the legacy of out-going WTA CEO Stacey Allaster, who once called Li Na the most important player in the world.

Staged in Li's hometown, the Wuhan Open was positioned between the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo and Beijing's China Open, as part of the post-U.S. Open Asian swing. 

As Li's popularity soared, so did interest in tennis in China. The Wuhan Open was the tournament Li built. 

Unfortunately, just a couple of weeks before Wuhan's debut, Li announced her retirement. The woman responsible for the tournament never got to play in it. 

Li's retirement was the first of a rash of bad news for the Wuhan Open last year. Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, slated to play in the tournament, announced she was done playing for the year due to injury. Fresh off a U.S. Open semifinal appearance, China's then No. 2, Shaui Peng, lost in her opening match. Serena Williams, who had just won the U.S. Open, retired in the second round with a viral illness.

Lucie Safarova left the tournament with a viral infection. Garbine Muguruza contracted gastroenteritis. Jelena Jankovic retired with a bad back. Ana Ivanovic retired with a thigh injury. Sharapova lost in the second round to a qualifier. 

After such a disastrous start, 2015 had to be better?

This year, Williams skipped the tournament. Sharapova took a wildcard, marking a return to the courts for the first time since Wimbledon. Eugenie Bouchard, who was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open with a concussion, was scheduled to play Belinda Bencic in the first round.

However, Bouchard withdrew and Sharapova retired in the third set of her opening match with an injury. 

Matches have been interrupted by roaming spectators who seem oblivious to the "take your seat" tradition during points. Chair umpires have repeatedly tried to control the constant movement, as players have shown their frustration (tweet contains NSFW language):

Meanwhile, Evans' mysterious death overshadows everything. The absence of Hawk-Eye serves as a constant reminder of the tragedy. 

All indications are that tournament officials are committed to putting on a top-notch event. They opened a brand-new 15,000-seat center court that has received rave reviews from players.

Azarenka told Tennis Now “I think the structure is pretty incredible here, you know, what they've done with the facilities. It's really impressive,” said Azarenka. “I think it's a beautiful stadium. It feels really comfortable. I like it. I mean, it's great that they have invested and came up with such an amazing facility here.” 

Unfortunately, despite first-rate facilities, Wuhan can't seem to shake its bad luck. 

Yahoo Sports tennis columnist Stephanie Myles cautioned last year that the addition of Wuhan could have a negative impact. Myles pointed out how Wuhan's arrival resulted in the downsizing of the Toray Pan Pacific Open. Still a premier event, Toray Pan Pacific saw its prize money drop from $2.3 million in 2013 to $1 million in 2014. This year, the prize money was down to $881,000. 

Being the sandwiched stop among three premier tournaments scheduled in successive weeks, doesn't help. 

"Even when the far deeper ATP Tour stages three tournaments in one week, the player fields end up pretty diluted. The WTA Tour is spreading itself awfully thin with its ambitious new fall Asian configuration (especially right after the Open) and intensive focus on adding events in China," wrote Myles. 

Whether it's bad karma or simply misfortune, the Wuhan Open has gotten off to a bizarre beginning.  

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