By Sudipto Ganguly
(Reuters) - The WTA Tour could see its tournaments in China wiped out entirely for the second successive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has set a June 30 deadline for a final decision, two sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
China, the focus of the Tour's most aggressive expansion over the last decade, hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season, including the elite WTA Finals, with a total $30.4 million prize money on offer.
With the sport brought to a standstill by the global health crisis, plans to stage seven events in China in the second half of last year were scrapped due to the country's strict controls on foreign visitors, which have not been relaxed a great deal since.
In April, the World University Games in Chengdu were postponed by a year until 2022 and the Asian Football Confederation was also forced to move World Cup soccer qualifiers out of China in May.
"Currently discussions with local and central government are still happening," one source said of the China-based tournaments on the 2021 calendar. "All options are being explored until end of June."
A second source confirmed that the plan was to make a final decision by the end of the month.
The Chinese Tennis Association and the WTA Tour did not respond to requests for comment.
The season-ending WTA Finals, contested by the world's top eight singles players and eight doubles teams, had a prize purse of $14 million in 2019 when it was played in Shenzhen for the first time.
The cancellation of the annual showpiece in 2020 left a big hole in the WTA's finances and making an early decision on the 2021 event would allow the Tour to relocate the event if it cannot be held in China.
Last year, the men's ATP Tour had to cancel the Shanghai Masters, Asia's only ATP Masters 1000 tournament, the China Open in Beijing, an ATP 500 event, as well as the Chengdu Open and Zhuhai Championships, both ATP 250 events.
However, the ATP Finals went ahead in London without fans and will shift to Turin for the next five years from this year.
China is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics and the Asian Games in 2022.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford)