More money needed to secure ASB Classic drawcards

Serena Williams during the 2017 ASB Classic in Auckland. Photo/Photosport
Serena Williams during the 2017 ASB Classic in Auckland. Photo/Photosport

World women's tour tennis boss Steve Simon has issued a challenge to Auckland's ASB Classic to increase its prizemoney levels, if it wants to secure more top-10 player appearances, instead of relying on one major drawcard like Serena Williams.

Simon, more than a year into the role of Women's Tennis Association chief executive, is in Auckland for the Classic and will present event officials with an award from the WTA for hosting the best tournament in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is the fourth time in as many years that the event has won the honour. The irony is that the tournament is in major damage control, after rain interruptions, and the demise of top drawcards Serena and Venus Williams yesterday agitated some fans.

The horror Wednesday, where Venus pulled out with injury and then Serena was upset in the second round, highlighted the risk of the tournament being promoted almost solely around one or two top players.

In this case, current world No. 2 Serena, occupied the most attention and fanfare.

But Simon said there was only one solution if Auckland wanted more top 10 players - pay more prizemoney.

"The [current] status is based on the prizemoney levels and the status of the event," Simon told Radio Sport's Matt Brown.

"The rules do allow for tournaments, such as this, to have more top 10 players - they just have to increase their prizemoney.

"It would be unfair for this event to have eight top 10 players, without paying prizemoney equivalent to the other events. The rules are set up, so they don't prohibit tournaments from bringing as many top players as they want, they just have to pay the right fee."

The ASB Classic currently offers a prizemoney pool of $US250,000, placing it in the lowest tier of WTA tour events and restricting it to just one current top 10-ranked player each year.

In 2017, that was Serena.

While others like Venus and Caroline Wozniacki are former world No. 1s, they are outside the current top 10.

The rule means the tournament cannot secure the likes of current world No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany and other current top tenners, such as Simona Halep and American Madison Keys, alongside Serena - even if they did want to come here - and spread the risk of drawcards dropping out early in the week.

To get to the next tier, Auckland would have to boost the prizemoney pool to a minimum $US500,000, which would secure "premier" status on the tournament and allow it to pursue more top tenners.

It would also have to pay a sanctioning fee to the WTA, which may be as high as $US500,000

Simon said the move to add a roof to the event venue, at the cost of $8 million, is a positive step, and would also help secure stronger fields and eliminate the weather impact.

Despite the setbacks this week, Simon lauded the ASB Classic as a benchmark event for tournaments of its size and insisted the WTA's premier events could also learn from it.

- NZ Herald

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