A sports promoter’s anguish
Who’d be a tournament promoter? Karl Budge must have been feeling a million dollars after the ASB Classic women’s tennis open in Auckland this month.
He secured two of the biggest drawcards in world tennis, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, and they delivered superbly, reaching the final, where Williams won a high-quality match.
The whole tournament was a promoter’s dream.
How different it was the following week, at the men’s equivalent, the Heineken Open.
Budge had signed up a fantastic array of stars, led by David Ferrer, John Isner, Gael Monfils and Tommy Robredo. Tickets were snapped up and tennis fans looked forward to a great week.
Then Isner withdrew because he was tired after playing an exhibition event in Perth, Monfils pulled out for personal reasons, Ferrer backed out with a back strain, and Robredo withdrew with a hip injury. The biggest remaining name, Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, defaulted midway through his match against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
The rather muted tournament was won by Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely. It won’t be a week Budge looks back on too fondly.
Lots of times tournament directors strike it lucky, and the Auckland tennis events have drawn great players over the years.
I recall watching in awe in 1969 when Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Tony Roche and Pancho Gonzales turned up to contest the men’s crown, and Ann Jones and Billie Jean King led the women’s field.
Since then Tom Okker, Roger Taylor, Bjorn Borg, Gustavo Kuerten, Marcelo Rios, Juan Martin del Potro are among the world stars to have shone in Auckland. Even Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played there early in their careers.
On the women’s side, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong (Cawley) dominated early opens, and recent winners have included Ana Ivanovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, Elena Dementieva, Lindsay Davenport, Jelena Jankovic and Marion Bartoli. Other leading women like Maria Sharapova and Li Na have also been headline acts in Auckland.
All a tournament director can do is lure the big names to the event. The rest is in the lap of the gods.
Think of the 2002 New Zealand golf open at Paraparaumu Beach.
After entreaties from his caddy, Steve Williams, Tiger Woods agreed to play (for a reported $5 million appearance fee).
Ticket prices were raised alarmingly, but it might still have been okay if there hadn’t been truly abysmal weather – high winds and torrential rain – for two days. The crowds were not as big as expected and tournament organisers took a financial bath.
Australian Craig Parry won that open, not that many people noticed, or really cared.
Tiger turned up, took the money, did the public relations stuff and left tournament organisers licking their wounds.
Before I finish, let me just say how embarrassing it is to see our national men’s cricket team formally called Black Caps.
Brendon McCullum apparently doesn’t lead a New Zealand team; it’s Black Caps.
So in the World Cup, according to official New Zealand Cricket press statements, it will be Black Caps v Australia, Black Caps v England, Black Caps v Sri Lanka and so on.
What a triumph for the marketing gurus over logic.
Low-key: Czech Jiri Vesely, world ranking 63, won the Heineken Open tennis in Auckland after all the big names withdrew.