Hong Kong's Zhang Ling takes part in launch party for new WTA event
HKTA hosts champagne reception in Central to mark city's return to the world circuit
With a launch party aptly called Love-All, it can only get better for two of the main protagonists at next year's WTA Hong Kong Open as new tournament director Stephen Duckitt and newly mended Hong Kong number one Zhang Ling promise that a bright future awaits.
Former ATP official Duckitt was gung-ho over Hong Kong's new Women's Tennis Association International Series event, secured with a US$2 million grant from the government earlier this year, which was officially launched on Wednesday in Central at a champagne reception attended by the corporate sector.
The latter is a sector the Hong Kong Tennis Association will be wooing over the next few months as it hunts for a title sponsor with deep pockets.
"This event will be more than just a sporting event. It will be part of the social calendar and a major lifestyle event. We hope the Hong Kong community will come out strongly and back the return of professional tennis to this town," said Duckitt.
Still a lot of work lies ahead for organisers of the tournament slated for the week following the US Open next year - September 8-14 - with the search for a title sponsor starting only now. The Victoria park event is committed to offering prize money of US$250,000 and is guaranteed only one top-10 player.
Hong Kong number one Zhang is a long way from such stellar heights, now ranked 427 in the world. But the 24-year-old has promised to raise her status over the next few months to try to win a spot in the 32-strong singles main draw on merit alone. The HKTA has the luxury of holding one wild card into the main draw and it is most likely to go to the top-ranked local player at the time.
"I will need to be around the 100 mark if I'm to get into the main draw on merit and I hope I can do that on my own steam," said Zhang last night.
"My ranking has dropped over the past few years because I have been struggling with injuries. The most recent one was a wrist injury, which needed surgery in January, and then it needed three months to recover.
"I'm really looking forward to playing at our home event. It is great that Hong Kong will have its own professional tournament and playing in front of your home crowd and in your own backyard always helps. Hopefully I can win a few matches and that will help boost my rankings too," Zhang added.
Zhang was the star turn last night after China's Peng Shuai failed to turn up having failed to obtain her visa on time.
The Singaporean promoter, Sports Management Group, promised the stars - well at least one from the world's top 10 - would set the tournament alight next year.