Heineken Open champion David Ferrer will return to Auckland next year to defend his title, organisers announced today.
The world number five, who defeated David Nalbandian in last year's final, has claimed 11 career titles and previously won at Auckland in 2007.
He will be joined by fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. It will be the first time Verdasco plays in Auckland. The world number 24, who reached a career-high ranking of 7 in 2009, has amassed more than $8 million career earnings.
The full field for the tournament, which runs from January 9 to 14 at the revamped ASB Tennis Centre, will be announced on November 30.
Tournament director Richard Palmer is thrilled to have finally succeeded in "chasing Verdasco down".
"He's a player a lot of people know about. He's not a Nadal or a Djokovic, but a lot of people over the years have said 'get him down here'."
The Heineken Open has regularly drawn Spaniards to Auckland in the build-up to the first Major of the year. Ferrer's title win in New Zealand this year preceded his semi-final run in Melbourne, where he eventually fell to Andy Murray in four sets.
"I think in some ways they're creatures of habit, and in some cases they're superstitious. We've had the Spanish Armada alluded to quite frequently, but it's good to get a new boat there."
Securing a top-five player is a real coup, he says, considering the depth of international talent.
"You've got the top four who are fairly ensconced at the top. David Ferrer sits at five quite comfortably. From there down there's players beating each other all the time."
Ferrer has already qualified for the 2011 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals
and won his second ATP World Tour title at Acapulco. He beat Verdasco 6-3, 6-2 in 84 minutes last night at the Valencia Open.
- HERALD ONLINE/APNZ