Up to eight of the world's top ten ranked women's tennis players were being lined up to play in Auckland's ASB Classic this summer.
Tournament director Karl Budge earlier this week reluctantly cancelled plans to stage what would have been the biggest tournament ever held in the country after failing to get his plans to create a tournament bubble approved by Government.
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The Herald can reveal Budge had secured approval from the WTA Tour to stage back to back tour events in Auckland after the Australian Open which finishes in Melbourne on January 27.
The first of these would have been a WTA Premier Level tournament with prize money of US$750,000, nearly three times the current amount with the second event an international series tournament on the same level as the current ASB Classic.
The Premier Level tournament would have attracted most of the sport's leading names while the cut off in direct acceptances was expected to be around 40 in the rankings for a 32 strong draw.
The tournaments would have bridged a gap in the calendar for leading players to play one or two of the weeks straight after the Australian Open before heading to the Middle East for tour events in Dubai and Doha towards the end of February.
With a disrupted calendar due to Covid-19 (there is only one more WTA tournament scheduled this year after the French Open) players are under increasing pressure from their sponsors to take every opportunity to play.
They would have travelled from the Australian Open bubble to Auckland and after three days in isolation in their hotel rooms would have been released into a tournament 'bubble if they tested negative for Covid-19.
The plan was comprehensive: Players and officials would all have been housed in the same hotel where the player dining would be set up and players would only travel to the courts for practice and their matches. There would have been no interaction with the general public. The stadium was being configured to ensure social distancing and a new stairwell from the player's lounge directly to the court was being built.
Budge has chosen his words carefully and publicly has been reluctant to blame the Government for the ultimate failure to make it happen.
But in a Q and A sent to sponsors and suppliers obtained by the Herald, Budge was asked if the government had been helpful.
"We understand the pressures that are on government right now to keep New Zealand safe and protect the gains that we've made. Whilst we are obviously disappointed, we have learnt to focus on the things that we have control over. This is not one of those and we now need to focus on how we can work with our supporters to come back stronger," he said.
When asked 'What's your message to the Government?' he responded:
"I don't have one. Time for review and reflection will come but right now my focus on supporting my team and working with our supporters on securing our future."
"It's really important to say we received great support from our Sponsors and ATEED. Ultimately a decision has been made. A time will come to reflect and review but right now we are focused on working with those who have supported us to secure our future."
It had become patently clear in the last couple of weeks that Budge was becoming frustrated at the lack of communication from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Budge had submitted a comprehensive Covid-19 plan more than three months ago but had received silence from officials. He warned they were fast approaching D-Day but kept getting stonewalled.
In the end perhaps the requirement for players to be released into a tournament controlled bubble after three days of Government-run managed isolation proved to be the biggest sticking point.
It will be galling for Budge, his team and all the tennis fans in this country to see tournaments take place across the Tasman this summer, including the Australian Open in Melbourne, a city that was under siege a few weeks ago but is now getting Covid-19 under control and will host the year's first Grand Slam in January.