Errors on court but big results off court

In the final stages of her exceptional tennis career, Serena Williams gave it a nudge but fell to her rust and the winds in Auckland.

Two rounds and she was gone, agitated by the difficult open-air conditions at Stanley St and descending into a slew of mistakes until the statisticians stopped counting at 88 unforced errors.

Williams was annoyed about her "unprofessional" contribution to a tournament which elder sister Venus had praised. She had trained hard for the event but in hostile conditions came up well short of her standards.

Box office Serena became waving Williams as she headed for the airport and left discussions about whether her appearance fee was money well-spent by organisers of the ASB Classic.


For the last week, the allure of the Williams brand showed the value of stumping up an appearance fee somewhere north of $200,000 to ensure the multiple Grand Slam champion made it all the way south to New Zealand.

It certainly looked a much better investment than the $3.7 million appearance fee paid to world No1 Tiger Woods to get him to play in the New Zealand Golf Open in 2002.

Woods delivered on a promise to caddy Steve Williams and repaid those golf junkies who went to watch as he battled into a tie for fifth in tough conditions at Paraparaumu.

Woods' appearance was not a springboard for future commercial advances and the event has gone through significant changes since.

However, promoters understand the pulling power of world champions and superstars in this sports obsessed nation.

Look at the rousing success of the Auckland Darts Masters in the middle of last year when a stunning line-up arrived and Michael van Gerwen was beaten in the quarter-finals. It compared well with the outrageous Ally Pally scenes this week when van Gerwen claimed his second world crown against double defending champion Gary Anderson.

Support for tennis at Stanley St has a similar vibe and the announcement that Serena Williams would join sister Venus was a juicy New Year teaser.

It was a chance to see the most successful player since Steffi Graf, someone whose game is on a different level to most when she gets it right.

From the time Williams forced a slew of media to set their alarms for an early-morning airport call, she held the headlines. There was also news of her engagement to Alexis Ohanian which coincided with her first trip to this part of the world.

Williams is someone who can be described as box-office, drawcard and superstar in a world which too readily bandies about those descriptions.

Her presence was a chance for tennis, Auckland and the ASB sponsors to showcase their talents and dominate the chatter in the traditional post Christmas lull in major news.

When Williams exited the tournament, promoter Karl Budge looked a little forlorn as he stood nearby. He'd lost his double act in one afternoon but when he tots up the figures, he'll know they had been winners.

The evidence was striking across the main newspaper and television outlets. If Williams moved, there was a bulletin update - the engagement ring, first practice session, a trip to Waiheke, cancelled press conference, delayed match, the loss to Madison Brengle.

Investment in sporting class was a sporting ace.