Sparkling future ahead for Classic

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2007, 12:00am

Diamonds are a girl's best friend, or at least that is what the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons Association (HKTPA) will be hoping after Indian diamond manufacturers JB Group breathed new life into the premier tournament in town - the former Women's Champions Challenge - by signing a three-year title sponsorship deal yesterday.

The withdrawal of long-term title sponsor Watsons Water this year placed organisers under severe financial stress to hold the event next year.

But the HKTPA has clinched a last-minute deal, and the tournament will now be known as the JB Group Classic 2008. It will be played from January 2-5 at Victoria Park.

'This is the first time that a major Indian corporation has come to the forefront of tennis sponsorship,' said HKTPA president Ian Wade. 'It is a bold move, which I'm sure will pay dividends. We are grateful to them.'

As revealed last week by the South China Morning Post, the 2008 tournament will be headlined by Russian glamour girl Maria Sharapova and reigning Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.

They will be joined by two other top-10 players, Serbian Ana Ivanovic and Russian Anna Chakvetadze.

China's Peng Shuai and Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki are two of the other players in the eight-strong line-up. The remaining two will be announced at a later date.

'This is the perfect opportunity to showcase our group,' said Jatin Chutke, JB Group's vice-president of corporate affairs.

'We will be celebrating 15 years of our presence in Hong Kong next year and it will be just perfect to back a big tennis event for the first time.'

With a turnover of US$3 billion last year, the Indians have deep pockets, and the HKTPA are breathing a huge sigh of relief that they didn't have to dip into their own reserves to hold the 2008 event.

'The deal was finalised just a few weeks ago,' Wade said. 'They have committed for three years, and perhaps it is a sign of the times that an Indian company has stepped in.'

Chutke added: 'When Terry Catton [tournament director] approached our chairman Bhupen Surani, he was attracted by the history of the HKTPA. It's an achievement to have promoted top-quality tennis events for more than 25 years.'