ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge is launching a bold bid to elevate the status of Auckland's WTA tournament to Premier level on the WTA Tour in 2020.
This would see the tournament comparable to the Brisbane International with potentially up to one million US dollars in prize money, four times the existing level.
The Auckland tournament running alongside the Brisbane International and Shenzhen tournament in China (which has a total purse of US$750,000) has always batted above its weight attracting high quality fields.
This summer's event has a direct entry cut off of 89 in the rankings and features some of the sport's biggest names like Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Genie Bouchard.
But in comparison the Brisbane field includes seven of the top 10 and has a cut of 45 for direct acceptances. The tournament carries double the ranking points of Auckland and consistently attracts the bulk of the players ranked between 10 and 50.
However that could all change if Budge can attract the necessary sponsorship and also secure a licence from the WTA to elevate the Auckland tournament in status.
It's something he believes is not pie in the sky due in part to the threat posed by a new ATP men's event called the ATP Cup which will launch next summer.
That tournament in partnership with Tennis Australia has US$15million in prize money and will feature 24 nations with five player teams.
In total more than a hundred players will be involved in an event lasting 10 days at the start of the season. It will be staged in three Australian cities (probably Brisbane, Sydney and Perth) and will dominate the media landscape and potentially reduce the WTA to second class status in the lead up to the Australian Open. The Brisbane International which is currently a combined WTA/ATP event will become a women's only event.
Budge is lobbying the Tour to stage two high profile tournaments down under in the first week of the season down with Auckland elevated to the same status as Brisbane.
"I would be lying if I haven't started asking those questions and started campaigning for that," Budge said.
"The WTA needs to ask themselves if they want to be in a market that is going to have all their eyes on an exciting new men's event or is there another opportunity for them to come out and own a market and be the biggest show in town."
Currently tour rules prevent a tournament of Auckland's size and stature securing more than one top ten ranked player. It's something that has irked Budge over the years because he feels most of the top ranked players want to start the year in Auckland if they could.
The ASB Classic is regularly voted the best international series tournament on tour and Budge says he would be able to chase at least half of the world's top ten players should the Classic be elevated in status.
"My hardest job at the moment is letting players down. We know we have a large portion of the top ten that want to start the year in Auckland. We probably could have had seven or eight discussions with top ten players about starting the year in Auckland this year."
"We know we have a lot of support from players. You don't get the players we get without having that player support and I think that's certainly a string to our bow and I will certainly be banging my chest as loud as I can about how to increase the relevance of the ASB Classic."
This summer's tournament field unveiled yesterday features eight players ranked in the top 50 and includes three former world number ones in Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Defending champion Julia Goerges (ranked 14) is also back while former world number 5 ranked Canadian Eugenie Bouchard returns for the first time since 2013 when as an 18 year old she was the reigning Junior Wimbledon champion.
The ASB Classic starts on New Year's Eve and runs through to the 6th of January.
Facts and Figures:
ASB Classic December 31st to January 6th
Total Prize money: US$250,000
Singles winner: US$43,000 ranking points 280
Runner up: US$21,400 ranking points 180
Semifinalist US$11,300 ranking points 110
Quarter-finalist US$5,900 ranking points 60
Brisbane International December 31st to January 6
Total Prize money US$1,000,000
Singles winner: US$190,732 USD ranking points 470
Runner up: US$101,475 USD ranking points 305
Semifinalist US$54,200 USD ranking points 185
Quarter-finalist US$23,265 USD ranking points 100