Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

ASB Classic: Irate fans left waiting for three hours to see tennis

Some punters were able to be accommodated in the on-site bars and outdoor seating areas, but many irate fans were left queuing at the gates. Photosport
Some punters were able to be accommodated in the on-site bars and outdoor seating areas, but many irate fans were left queuing at the gates. Photosport

ASB Classic organisers endured the wrath of patrons for the third straight day yesterday after punters with tickets for the night session were left queuing outside the venue for more than three hours.

An overrun on the day session matches resulted ticket holders for the evening games being left to wait at the gates for play to finish before they could get into the venue.

Questions have been asked over the tournament officials' ambitious scheduling for the first session, with four matches scheduled between 12.30 and 6.30pm. That left them with little wriggle room for any delays or lengthy on-court battles.

The players were unable to keep to the tight timeframes, with yesterday's day session producing two three-set marathons.

In the first, Babora Strycova battled past her Czech compatriot Lucie Safarova, triumphing in a third set tiebreak, before American Madison Brengle's shock elimination of tournament top seed Serena Williams.

Both matches extended deep into two hours and by the time punters turned up for the evening matches, play was still in progress in the Brengle-Williams match, with a further match to be played after that.

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Some punters were able to be accommodated in the on-site bars and outdoor seating areas, but many irate fans were left queuing at the gates. It continued a week of fan backlash for tournament organisers after patrons with tickets for the opening two days, which were virtual wash-outs, were only refunded at most 50 per cent of their ticket price.

Asked why yesterday's day session did not get under way earlier to accommodate the ambitious schedule, tournament director Karl Budge responded:
"We couldn't do that for a host of reasons. One we needed to make sure the players had enough rest in between last night and this morning, but also international broadcast and the like. So we had to keep to that 12.30 start time and we will for the remainder of the week as well," he said.

Budge acknowledged it was tough on patrons with tickets to the night session, and said he spent time outside trying to calm the irate fans.

"I think it is important you go and front those scenarios, so I probably spent two hours out the front with the fans and tried to explain the situation," said Budge.

"Most of them were pretty bloody good. This happens at every tennis tournament, you try your best to schedule matches that you can get through, but no one can predict these things and we certainly had some long ones today. It's great for fans who got to watch it, disappointing for those who didn't."

It capped off a horror day for Budge after the tournament's two headline acts - Serena and Venus Williams - exited in the space of a disastrous few hours. First Venus announced her withdrawal after picking up an arm injury in her first round win over Kiwi Jade Lewis, before her younger sister's shock loss to world number 73 Madison Brengle.

Serena made it clear she would not be leaving Auckland with fond memories of the tournament, blaming in part the blustery conditions for her uncharacteristically high error rate. She described the venue as "the least favourite conditions I have played in".

Budge admitted it had been a tough day in his career, but took comfort from the fact it was caused by factors that were out of his hands.

"There's two things I can't control and that's player performance and weather and unfortunately those are two things that probably hurt us this week," he said.

- NZ Herald

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