Weekend Herald

Clas­sic would have been big­gest ever

Stars tar­geted, with prize money triple the cur­rent fig­ure

- Tennis Matt Brown Sports · Tennis · Australian Open · Auckland Region · Women's Tennis Association · Dubai · Doha · New Zealand

Whilst we are ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed, we have learnt to fo­cus on the things that we have con­trol over.

Karl Budge

Up to eight of the world’s top 10 women’s tennis play­ers were be­ing lined up to star in Auck­land’s ASB Clas­sic this sum­mer.

Tour­na­ment direc­tor Karl Budge this week can­celled what would have been the big­gest tennis event ever held in this coun­try af­ter plans for a tour­na­ment bub­ble were not ap­proved by Gov­ern­ment.

The Week­end Her­ald can re­veal Budge had se­cured ap­proval from the WTA Tour to stage back- to- back events in Auck­land af­ter the Aus­tralian Open fin­ished on Jan­uary 27.

The first of these would have been a WTA Premier Level tour­na­ment with prize money of US$ 750,000, nearly three times the cur­rent amount, with the sec­ond an in­ter­na­tional series tour­na­ment on the same level as the ASB Clas­sic.

The Premier Level tour­na­ment would have at­tracted most of the sport’s lead­ing names, with the cut­off in di­rect ac­cep­tances ex­pected to be around 40 in the rank­ings for a 32- strong draw.

The tour­na­ments would have bridged a gap in the cal­en­dar for lead­ing play­ers for one or two weeks af­ter the Aus­tralian Open be­fore head­ing to tour events in Dubai and Doha at the end of Fe­bru­ary.

With a dis­rupted cal­en­dar due to Covid- 19 ( there is only one more WTA tour­na­ment sched­uled this year af­ter the French Open), play­ers are un­der pres­sure from their spon­sors to take the court at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

They would have trav­elled from the Aus­tralian Open bub­ble to Auck­land, and af­ter three days in ho­tel i so­la­tion, would have been re­leased into a tour­na­ment bub­ble if they tested neg­a­tive for Covid- 19.

The plan was com­pre­hen­sive: Play­ers and of­fi­cials would all be housed in the same ho­tel and would travel only to the courts, for prac­tice and matches. There would have been no in­ter­ac­tion with the pub­lic. The sta­dium was be­ing con­fig­ured to en­sure so­cial dis­tanc­ing and a new stair­well from the play­ers’ lounge di­rectly to the court was be­ing built.

Budge has cho­sen his words care­fully and has been re­luc­tant to pub­licly blame the Gov­ern­ment for the fail­ure to make it hap­pen.

But in a Q and A sent to spon­sors and sup­pli­ers ob­tained by the Week­end Her­ald, Budge was asked if the Gov­ern­ment had been help­ful.

“We un­der­stand the pres­sures that are on Gov­ern­ment right now to keep New Zealand safe and pro­tect the gains that we’ve made,” he wrote. “Whilst we are ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed, we have learnt to fo­cus on the things that we have con­trol over. This is not one of those and we now need to fo­cus on how we can work with our sup­port­ers to come back stronger.”

It had be­come clear in re­cent weeks that Budge was frus­trated at the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment. Budge had sub­mit­ted a com­pre­hen­sive Covid- 19 plan more than three months ago but heard noth­ing from of­fi­cials. He warned they were fast ap­proach­ing D- Day but kept get­ting stonewalle­d.

Per­haps the re­quire­ment for play­ers to switch to a tour­na­ment-con­trolled bub­ble af­ter three days of Gov­ern­ment- run man­aged iso­la­tion proved the big­gest stick­ing point.

It will be galling for Budge, his team and tennis fans in this coun­try to see tour­na­ments take place across the Tas­man this sum­mer, in­clud­ing the Aus­tralian Open in Mel­bourne, a city that was un­der siege a few weeks ago but i s now get­ting Covid- 19 un­der con­trol and will host the year’s first Grand Slam in Jan­uary.

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