French Open winner Kuerten confirmed for Victoria Park
Brazil's new sensation Gustavo Kuerten has been confirmed for next month's $5.64 million Marlboro Championships at Victoria Park.
Kuerten, who stunned the tennis world when he won this year's French Open title as an unseeded player, will join German great Boris Becker, Chilean Marcelo Rios, Spain's Albert Costa and eight other players in the October 14-19 tournament.
Kuerten, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Wednesday, has become a hot commodity since winning at Roland Garros, commanding large appearance fees.
However, tournament director Brian Catton revealed yesterday that he had missed an opportunity to sign Kuerten for nothing.
'Sometime before the French Open, Kuerten's agent contacted me and asked if I wanted him in the field for prize money only and without appearance fees,' said Catton.
'Although I follow tennis quite closely, at that time, I didn't know who Gustavo Kuerten was. I said I'd get back to them.
'Then he goes on to win the French Open and, of course, his worth goes up.' Catton would not reveal Kuerten's price tag for the Hong Kong tournament.
However, it is understood that a player with a Grand Slam title under his belt would expect at least US100,000 just to turn up.
Kuerten was briefly ranked in the top 10 this year but is now 12th in the list.
Australia's defending champion and recent US Open winner Patrick Rafter will be missing from this year's lineup after he turned down an invitation.
'In January, Rafter decided that he would play in Europe this autumn so he will not be able to come to Hong Kong,' said Catton.
'Last year, he played in Asia, going to Singapore before coming to Hong Kong.' But the Hong Kong fans' taste for big-name players is satisfied by three-time Wimbledon champion Becker, who makes his first appearance at the tournament.
The lineup also includes Sweden's Thomas Johansson and Mikael Tillstrom, Australian Scott Draper, Zimbabwe's Byron Black, Americans Jonathan Stark and Justin Gimelstob as well as Italian Renzo Furlan.
Organisers have kept one place open in the hope of luring an established player at a later date.
Catton said the field reflects organisers' policy of introducing new players to the Hong Kong public.
'We want to bring new faces to Hong Kong and the different nationalities will attract big crowds to the event.' Rios is the highest-ranked player in the field at eight while Costa is ranked 19.
The tournament will once again feature a round-robin format with the 12 players divided into four groups of three.
The winner of each group advances to the semi-finals. The eventual champion will win US$220,000.
Organisers announced a special ticket pricing policy for the preliminary rounds. Fans can purchase outer ring tickets for $100 until the end of the month.
Marlboro Championships field: Boris Becker (Germany), Byron Black (Zimbabwe), Albert Costa (Spain), Scott Draper (Australia), Renzo Furlan (Italy), Justin Gimelstob (US), Thomas Johansson (Sweden), Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil), Marcelo Rios (Chile), Jonathan Stark (US), Mikael Tillstrom (Sweden).