Over the past six months, the suspension of the tour calendar as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded the WTA an opportunity to focus on one of its hallmark initiatives: the WTA Future Stars program, which is primed for its biggest year yet in 2021. 

Launched in 2014 as a way to assist promising tennis talents from 12 countries and regions in Asia-Pacific, the program's reach and influence has nearly doubled in the six years since then to become a year-round development program for young athletes from 26 countries and regions. Its participants take part in a variety of activities aimed at encouraging the growth of tennis, promoting sportsmanship, and empowering the next generation of women leaders, on and off the court.

Judy Murray at the WTA Future Stars clinic, Beijing 2019.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

Since the program's inception, WTA Future Stars has helped spread the sport worldwide by conducting camps and masterclasses for hundreds of children around the world alongside current stars, WTA Legends and other tennis experts in countries and regions including India, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and Mexico.

While they have been unable to travel for much of the past year, the WTA Future Stars continued to keep busy much closer to home—with the role that they play in the WTA family never far from mind. 

Read more: Scottish teen Rosie Sterk talks WTA Future Stars with Judy Murray

In collaboration with WTA Charities, the official philanthropic arm of the WTA, players including WTA Future Stars, current touring pros and WTA Legends, came together to create a downloadable cookbook full of their favorite recipes, due for release this month.

Among the contributors are the two reigning champions from last year's WTA Future Stars tournament in Shenzhen: American teenagers Clervie Ngounoue and Reese Brantmeier. Funds raised from the cookbook will continue to support WTA Charities’ humanitarian campaign, WTA 4 Love, in support of local communities including hospitals, food banks, schools and other institutions affected by COVID-19.

Read more: WTA community supporting WTA4Love as tour returns to play

In addition, the program is working hand-in-hand with the WTA University platform, powered by SAP Litmos, to keep WTA Future Stars connected during these unprecedented times. From exploring opportunities for virtual camps, to developing an online curriculum to formalize their structure, the WTA Future Stars are utilizing the technology available for them to continue to grow in innovative ways.

2019 U16 WTA Future Stars champion Reese Brantmeier.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

In this capacity, WTA Future Stars will also be supported by WTA Legends thanks to the WTA Future Stars Mentoring Program, which was also formed during the tour's hiatus. Established to build a network of female coach-mentors for young girls in the sport, Grand Slam singles and doubles champions including Zheng Jie, Alicia Molik, Mary Pierce and Martina Hingis will work with young athletes with the goal of keeping them playing and nurturing their growth both as tennis players and world citizens.

"I’m really excited to be a part of the WTA Future Stars Mentoring Program," Pierce said. "With everything I’ve achieved and been through, both on and off the court, I believe I can make a difference and help someone achieve their goals and dreams. The desire of my heart is to do things I'm excited and passionate about, that have a global impact, touches hearts and changes lives for the better. The Mentoring Program is a really great initiative and I’m thrilled to be a part of it."

2019 U14 WTA Future Stars champion Clervie Ngounoue.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

Due to the recent decision by China’s General Administration of Sport decreeing that China will not host any international sporting events in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, all WTA tournaments that were scheduled in China on WTA’s provisional calendar will not be held. This includes the 2020 WTA Future Stars tournament that was due to take place alongside the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, which is set to return to the calendar next year.

“It has been a challenging year, and while we are of course disappointed with the impact of the pandemic on the WTA Future Stars Program, we’re excited to continue to build on the momentum generated by the initiatives that we have developed during this time," said Melissa Pine, Vice President, Global Program Development.

"We can’t wait to get back on court when it’s appropriate to do so, and continue to inspire young girls around the world to achieve their dreams through tennis."

2019 WTA Future Stars U14 final highlights