Classic would have been biggest ever
Stars targeted, with prize money triple the current figure
Whilst we are obviously disappointed, we have learnt to focus on the things that we have control over.
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.