The HKTA is in talks to bring pro tennis back to Hong Kong in 2014
Government offers funds to purchase licence for professional tournament in 2014, although limited seating could be a stumbling block
The Hong Kong Tennis Association is negotiating to bring a women's professional tournament to Victoria Park in September 2014, with financial backing from the government. But limited seating capacity could prove to be a major stumbling block in attracting more than one player from the world's top 10.
HKTA president Vincent Liang said the association was looking at buying a WTA International Series tournament offering total prize money of US$220,000. The government said it would pay for the licence, which could cost several million dollars.
"We are still negotiating on behalf of the Hong Kong Tennis Association for the purchase of the event from the owner and the contract has not yet been concluded," Liang said. "Even if we conclude the deal this year, we can only hold the event commencing in 2014."
It is understood the owners of the tournament wishing to sell their licence are in Luxembourg, which hosts a US$220,000 event comprising a 32-draw singles and a 16-draw doubles tournament. "The event is currently held around the end of October, but we hope to apply to the WTA to move it to the second week of September, which is one week before the Guangzhou Open," Liang said.
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Jonathan McKinley said: "We have assured the tennis association we will earmark resources to help them secure a recognised international tennis event for Hong Kong. The process of securing and organising an event is up to the association as the governing body for the game."
The HKTA's scope for purchasing a tournament has been narrowed owing to the limited capacity at Victoria Park, which can seat around 3,600 spectators. While a WTA International Series Event - which the HKTA is chasing - needs a minimum capacity of 2,500 seats, a WTA Premier Event must have 5,000.
The bigger WTA Premier 5 Event needs 7,500 seats, while a WTA Premier Mandatory Event calls for 10,000.
Hong Kong's premier tennis centre is only capable of holding a men's ATP 250 Series event, one of the smaller tournaments.
The limited capacity will play a huge role in preventing the world's best from turning up. Hong Kong fans who have been spoiled by the Hong Kong Tennis Classic, an exhibition event that used to bring many of the world's top 10 players, including the likes of Maria Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams, and Victoria Azarenka, will most likely have to settle for one top player.
This is because prize money of US$220,000 will only guarantee one player from the world's top 10. However, if prize money is increased, the WTA allows more top players to take part - for US$500,000 you get two and for US$750,000 you get three. The HKTA hasn't talked to the WTA on this issue.
"As the seller and the HKTA have not entered into a contract, the WTA has not been approached [for approval of the transfer]," Liang said.
Terry Catton, tournament director of the Hong Kong Tennis Classic, which was cancelled this January because of a failure to a title sponsor, said he hoped the bid was successful.
"It would be excellent if the HKTA can bring a WTA event to Hong Kong. We [the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons Association] have always wanted to stage an official ATP or WTA Tour event, but we haven't had the money to acquire or buy one, and we wouldn't want to lease one," Catton said.
He refused to speculate on what would happen to the future of the Tennis Classic if an official WTA event was brought to Hong Kong.
"Who knows, maybe we would try to change our event format to a 'Special Men's Event'," Catton said.