ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge is increasingly confident he will be able to stage ATP and WTA tournaments in New Zealand this summer.
There are finally signs of life for tennis, one of the last sports to get underway globally again, with the WTA staging a tournament in Palermo in Sicily this week. The ATP Tour is scheduled to resume with the Cincinnati Masters later this month at the same venue as the US Open; starting a week later in New York.
Like other sports globally there will be no crowds present and organisers promise a tightly controlled bubble.
Budge is banking on the ASB Classic being an exception, played before capacity crowds as has become the norm at the ASB Tennis Arena in recent years.
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But there is a key hurdle Budge and his team will have to overcome. Players won't want to quarantine for two weeks in New Zealand and then cross the Tasman and quarantine for another two weeks before the Australian Open.
"We are really optimistic of having a summer of tennis here in New Zealand and we think the plans we have in place are robust. We think they are flexible enough that they can work within whatever health and safety requirements that we need to adhere to and put on a great experience for players and fans alike." Budge said.
"We are energised around what that can look like, certainly a scenario if players have come and quarantined in New Zealand that they can travel freely to Australia thereafter would be the big piece for us and shore up some of that planning." Budge said.
Any tournaments here, however, will only be possible if the year's first Grand Slam - the Australian Open - takes place in Melbourne. Currently that would appear in doubt given the rampant spread of Covid-19 in Victoria. But Budge is adamant the Grand Slam of Asia Pacific will go ahead at Melbourne Park in late January.
"I am very certain that it will go ahead as planned. You only have to see with how well we dealt with a full lock down in New Zealand to see how quick we can come out the other side.
"So I think it's a benefit for everybody involved that they are going into this level four lockdown. It gives them an opportunity to knock it on the head.
"While there's obviously disruption around that, from a selfish perspective it's probably quite good for us because assuming that works the same way as in New Zealand; they will come out the other side in a good space."
While it's probable the Australian Open won't have crowds, that won't be the case for the ASB Classic women's and men's tournaments if they take place in January, or perhaps December which Budge won't rule out. The players, Budge assures us, are keen to come here.
"I think there is a real appetite, we are talking with them daily at the moment. Particularly these last ten days we have had a lot of dialogue with a whole host of players with the idea of trying to firm up our planning.
"The response we are getting is there's a real desire to come and play here. I think if we can manage the quarantine and travel arrangements in an appropriate way then players will be keen to come and play in front of some fans again. They are all entertainers at the end of the day and they like full stands."
Budge is in constant dialogue with ATP and WTA Tour officials and he describes the current situation in tennis as a "moving beast". The US Open is scheduled to start at the end of August, but the Madrid Open, a key lead-in tournament to next month's rescheduled French Open, has been cancelled.
The Asian Tour swing, traditionally set for October/November in China and Japan, has also been cancelled leaving a big hole in the calendar for the Tours. That could play into the ASB Classic's hand as players will be desperate for tournament play prior to the Australian Open.
For Budge's ambitious plans around the Auckland tournaments to come off he will need the support of the New Zealand government, a situation that may be complicated by September's general election.
"I certainly don't want to pre-judge any decisions that the government makes, but we are very confident we have a very robust plan and we will be working very closely with them over the coming weeks and months to make sure that we can deliver a summer of tennis.
"I know they are as keen as we are to see it happen. It is one of the anchor tenants of the summer sporting calendar in New Zealand." Budge said.