American trio lead assault on HK title
THREE top Americans - big local favourite Michael Chang and Davis Cup-winning stars Jim Courier and Pete Sampras - will spearhead the field at the US$300,000 Salem Hongkong Open at Victoria Park on April 12-18.
Courier, last year's winner and world number one will return to defend his title and former US Open winner Sampras will make his Hongkong debut.
Courier and Sampras were part of the US team that beat Switzerland in the Davis Cup final last year.
Chang was also briefly part of last year's American Davis Cup campaign.
The American trio, all of them ranked in the top six, will ensure one of strongest fields to play in Hongkong.
World number three Sampras and sixth-ranked Chang spoke about their participation in Hongkong after last week winning tournaments in New South Wales and Indonesia respectively.
''I'm looking forward to playing in Hongkong. I've heard from the players that it is a beautiful city,'' said Sampras, who was prevented from taking part in the inaugural 1990 tournament because of injury.
''I was supposed to be there a few years ago, but unfortunately got hurt. I hope I can put on a good show for the Hongkong fans.'' Chang, who won his first tournament in Asia at last week's Indonesian Open, will once again be the crowd favourite.
Although he has never won in Hongkong, he feels no pressure generated by the passionate support he receives here.
''I don't look at it as pressure, but more of an encouragement for me to win in Hongkong,'' said Chang.
''The Hongkong fans are very supportive and it is nice to play in front of that kind of enthusiasm. There are not a lot of other places where the fans react like that.'' Chang was beaten by Courier in last year's final.
Organisers are hoping that another top 10 player can be secured for the main draw.
Entries close 40 days before the event and 25 players will gain direct entry into the 32-man main draw depending on their rankings.
Four players will enter the main draw via a qualifying tournament on April 10 and 11, while three places will go to wild cards.
China's Xia Jiaping has already secured one of the wild card places, having won the Salem Asian Championships in Hongkong last month.
There will also be a 16-team doubles competition.
The cash prize for the winner of the tournament is US$39,000.
The success of the Hongkong Open has paved the way for the spread of tennis into China.
The combination of sponsors R. J. Reynolds and organisers Spectrum Plus will see the first Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) World Series tournament being held in China - a US$300,000 event in Beijing from October 18-24.
In Japan they will also stage a US$475,000 ATP event, at Osaka from March 29 to April 5, the first time the Japanese will have a chance to see a major professional tournament outside Tokyo.
Hongkong, Beijing and Osaka represent half the ATP World Series events in Asia and involve more than US$1 million in prize money.
Spectrum last year took over the rights to the Singapore Open and switched the tournament to Beijing.
Beijing were originally supposed to host their first professional tournament in 1990, but the sponsors pulled out following the 1989, June 4 Tiananmen Square incident.
Spectrum's Dave Baukol said: ''We are hoping that the same quality of players that are taking part in Hongkong will also be present in Beijing. It looks quite good for us because there is a big tournament in Tokyo the week before and some players might want to stop off in Beijing.'' However, Beijing might threaten Hongkong's other professional tennis event, the Marlboro Championships, scheduled for the same week.
Chang, who has been a regular at the Hongkong exhibition event, has previously talked about playing a competition in Beijing.
''I think it's great that the ATP are expanding their tournaments to Beijing and other parts of Asia,'' said Chang.
Spectrum outbid Johannesburg to secure the third week of October.
ATP regulations state that no more than three World Series events can be held in the same week.
Apart from Beijing, there will be tournaments in Lyon and Vienna.