Auckland's annual two weeks of top tennis never fail to show the sport at its best, or at least second best, since the tournaments are among several preparatory events for the Australian Open starting in Melbourne tomorrow.

But the ASB Classic at Stanley St brings a good mixture of big names and lesser known touring professionals who can all seize the Auckland prize.

That can make an event on this tier more interesting than a grand slam tournament where the winner is almost certainly to come from the top three or four players in the world.

The early exit of Serena Williams from the women's classic last week was not unusual for a player with her sights on the Melbourne title. It was unusual for her departing crack at the wind and, by implication, the venue.


It is true that Auckland's weather is unreliable at the best of times, and early January is nearly the best time for a summer game. Auckland Tennis has plans to encircle Stanley St with higher grandstands that would protect it from the sou'wester that ruined Williams' performance last week. The association would also like to put a retractable roof on the stadium if it can raise the money.

How good that roof would have been early last week when the first two days of the classic were disrupted by rain.

The stadium has been vastly improved on its northern and eastern sides where it has been incorporated in a private gym and recreation club but the old stand at the southern end and the sweltering concrete terraces on the western side still wait for upgrading.

The association has raised $10.5 m of the $18.5m it needs and hopes the balance will come from a mix of public, commercial and philanthropic sponsors.

As it stands, the stadium is not up to the standard the professional tour associations expect. Until the money can be found, Auckland's tournaments do not have an assured future.

Their director Karl Budge does a superb job signing up drawcard players for the tournaments but it must be wondered whether undisclosed appearance fees are Auckland Tennis' best investment. As Budge said himself this week, nobody who books a seat in advance is ever guaranteed to see a particular player.

So maybe it is time to put more of that appearance money into concrete and steel and a retractable roof. Now wouldn't that be something. They could name it after Serena.