All-star cast confirmed for HK event
Hopes that Capriati will join Venus Williams and Sharapova
First there was Real Madrid. Then Yao Ming. Now comes Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and company for a tennis tournament with a difference.
The quartet of stars will be joined by four of their peers in a 'unique' version of the Watsons Water Champions Challenge in January in the second phase of the Relaunch Hong Kong campaign.
'This will be the first time that players of such a high level will be playing together in mixed doubles,' said co-tournament director Terry Catton. 'We wanted it to be unique. And this is.
'The change to the format will see three competitions - men's singles, ladies singles and a mixed doubles. There will be two semi-finals, followed by a final in all competitions,' said Catton, who promised some other household names with Jennifer Capriati on the tip of everyone's lips at yesterday's press conference.
With the help of a $3.5 million handout from the government's $1 billion Sars rescue package, the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons' Association has managed to secure some of the biggest names in the game.
'We know what these players demand in fees so we produced a budget of what our event would cost and approached the Relaunch Hong Kong committee,' said Colvin Brown, president of the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons' Association. 'And they approved it.'
With appearance fees of around US$200,000 or more depending on the player, the TPA has budgeted for $15 million to $16 million to stage the event. 'We also raise a lot of money from sponsors and ticket sales,' added Brown.
'This is a rousing endorsement for Hong Kong,' he said. 'Hong Kong has a strong international reputation for staging world-class tennis events and once again our city has lined up some of the biggest names.'
Joe Cheng, chief leisure manager at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said: 'This is one of the major events on the government's Relaunch Hong Kong campaign. The visit of these superstars will help reinforce Hong Kong's image as Asia's world city and an ideal venue for international sports events.'
The government shelled out $20 million for Real Madrid's visit and $4 million for Yao Ming and the China national team to play an exhibition event, also in August.
Cheng said the level of support depended on the scale of the event. 'We have already had five events, starting with Real Madrid. 'We also have had diving, basketball, snooker and volleyball,' said Cheng. The other events the government has thrown its weight behind are badminton, a round-the-island yacht race, table tennis and squash.
Catton is still negotiating with four other players for the event at Victoria Park (January 8-10), but Capriati relaunched her career in Hong Kong two years ago and has a sentimental and superstitious attachment to the city.
Brown said: 'A lot of the women are injured, and a lot of the men are not available because of the Hopman Cup. We would like to have Jennifer back. And we would love to get Monica [Seles] back. She wrote to us saying she wanted to come but she is injured.'
Serena Williams has made a commitment to play in the Hopman Cup in Australia, which she won last year, while world number one Kim Clijsters spends Christmas and the New Year with boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt Down Under.
Catton said: 'We are talking with a number of players and should be able to make an announcement within the next couple of weeks.'