Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

It's party central at centre court

Great Britain No 1 Heather Watson is in Auckland and was hard at work yesterday practising for next week's ASB Classic. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Great Britain No 1 Heather Watson is in Auckland and was hard at work yesterday practising for next week's ASB Classic. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's not your usual party venue - but organisers of the ASB Classic are hoping Aucklanders will start their New Year celebrations at the tennis.

The first round of the annual women's tennis tournament begins on Monday at Stanley St.

Kiwi tenor Geoff Sewell, a former lead singer in the pop opera group Amici Forever, will sing during the day between tennis matches.

Caterers are bringing in hundreds of bottles of champagne, beer and punnets of strawberries for the six-day tournament.

Director Karl Budge said that with sunshine finally forecast for Auckland he hoped people would consider starting their celebrations at the stadium.

More than 54,000 people came to the ASB Classic and the men's Heineken Open tournament last year, and ticket sales for this were tracking well.

"I think it will be a great spectacle ... there's not a much better way to see out 2012 than a glass of champagne and some quality international tennis."

Mr Budge said this year's tournament had an exciting mix of highly ranked established players and young up-and-comers.

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, the 18-year-old junior Wimbledon champion, was one player to keep an eye on, Mr Budge said.

"She is probably the most promising female player coming through the ranks at the moment.

"There is some real excitement around some of the young guard coming through," he said.

Other up-and-coming players include British No 1 Heather Watson and Kiwi hopes will be pinned on New Zealand's top-ranked player, Marina Erakovic.

Previous Stanley St tournaments have been a magnet for the celebrity set.

Mr Budge said although the "very, very strong" field this year would attract tennis fans, he hoped others would discover the enjoyment of a day at the tennis.

"It's a wonderful experience," he said. "I don't know too many tournaments that have the facilities that we have here.

"It's a great place to socialise, and tennis can be the catalyst for why you are getting together and enjoying the sun and celebrating summer."

ASB Classic

Stanley St, Auckland

Match schedule
• Monday, December 31: Round One and final round qualifying.
• Tuesday, January 1: Round One.
• Wednesday, January 2: Round Two.
• Thursday, January 3: Quarter-finals.
• Friday, January 4: Semifinals.
• Saturday, January 5: Finals.

Who to look for: World No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska. The 23-year-old Pole, who made the final at Wimbledon this year is a "no mess, no fuss" player.

Tickets: Buy online at or phone 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538)

TV schedule
• All centre court matches will be screened live on SKY Sport 3.
• Free-to-air cover is available on Prime TV, which will screen an an hour-long highlights package of the previous day's play at 7.30am the next day, with a replay at 4.20pm.

The men's event, the Heineken Open, runs from January 7 to 12.

- NZ Herald

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