Global tennis star Rafael Nadal is being lined up to play in the Auckland tennis open next month, nine years after he appeared on the backcourts as a virtual unknown.
A lot of stars need to align for it to happen, but tournament director Karl Budge hopes he can help put them in place to lure the 26-year-old.
Nadal has played in Auckland twice - in 2004 he was a beaten finalist and the following year withdrew because of injury.
He's since won 11 grand slam tournaments among his 50 titles and has banked in excess of US$50 million ($60 million) in prizemoney.
He's ranked world No4 but has spent considerable time at No1 and would be the biggest drawcard in the Heineken Open's nearly 60 years.
Bjorn Borg won in 1974, before he went on to dominate men's tennis, and Marcelo Rios' win in 1998 helped propel him to No1 in the world later that year. Roger Federer was a first-round casualty in 2000.
Nadal hasn't played since losing in the second round at Wimbledon because of a long-term knee injury and had planned to make his comeback in Abu Dhabi, but was forced to withdraw because of illness.
It has also put in doubt his chances of playing next week in Doha.
Should he exit early from that tournament or fail to recover, he will need some match practice ahead of the Australian Open.
He could still opt for Kooyong but doesn't traditionally like playing in exhibition tournaments and might feel more comfortable in Auckland, out of the glare of the world's media and among a host of other Spaniards.
"It's probably more on the side of hopeful than realistic," Mr Budge said, "but we are certainly putting the feelers out.
"I have spoken with his agent every week for the last 15 weeks. He has been, 'Karl, no', every time I have spoken to him. Now he is saying, 'Let's see how he goes over the next week'."
Nadal would need a wildcard to enter the Open and Mr Budge will leave the place open for as long as possible. He will also see what financial inducement he can offer.
"I think it would help, but anything we offer is going to be a pittance compared to what Rafa normally gets."
ASB Classic: December 31 to January 5
Heineken Open: January 7 to 12 ASB Classic's top gun B2-B3
- APNZBy Michael Brown Email Michael