As Venus Williams embarks on an expected farewell tour next year, Auckland will be the first stop.

Though she seems ageless, the 38-year-old can't go on forever, and it's highly likely 2019 could be her final season on the WTA tour.

Williams was confirmed yesterday as a marquee signing for next year's ASB Classic, which will mark her fifth visit to the Queen City.

The 2015 champion has been a major drawcard every time she has appeared here, and the current world No 16 was a top priority to lure back again, after the seven time grand slam champion opted to start this year in Brisbane.


It's with good reason, as Williams has arguably done more to put the Auckland event on the map than any other female player. Her first visit in 2014 attracted massive media attention, as did her high-profile duels with Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki on Stanley Street.

Williams also played a key role in persuading younger sister Serena to come to Auckland in 2017, a once-in-a-generation event for local tennis fans, and her ongoing endorsement of the tournament has helped in the locker room.

"She's been great for us and it was an easy deal, to be honest," said tournament director Karl Budge. "We missed her, and I think she missed us as well. The last time she played here [in 2017], she made the final of the Australian Open. It's a schedule that works for her and it was a pretty quick conversation. She was the first player we approached, and the first one we got a yes from."

Budge is confident Williams, who reached the semifinals at Indian Wells this year, beating Serena on the way, and was a Wimbledon finalist last year, still has the pulling power.

"I don't think there has been a session [in Auckland] that Venus Williams has played that hasn't been sold out," said Budge.

"There is something special about Venus. We are watching one of the greatest athletes, not just in our sport, but sport in general. And the window is probably closing to see her. Who knows how many more chances there will be into the future?"

If Williams progresses to the final for the third time, she'll play on a Sunday night, as part of a schedule revamp.

The tournament will be stretched over seven days, with semifinals on Saturday afternoon and evening. It means that Monday and Tuesday will host only one session.

"We will trial it this year but the seven-day format is probably here to stay," said Budge. "It gives us some more flexibility. It works for the fans, and hopefully the players.

"I've wanted to do it for a while and never understood why we didn't have our best content on at a time when people wanted to watch it."

Yesterday Budge also confirmed Jaguar, who have a sponsorship association with Wimbledon, as the new vehicle supplier for the Classic.