• Tue
  • Jul 29, 2014
  • Updated: 11:30am
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 July, 2014, 11:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 July, 2014, 11:01pm

Early boost for city's WTA event

Organisers deserve a pat on the back for signing up Bouchard before her recent rise and also securing backing of Prudential

BIO

Alvin Sallay, a Sunday columnist with the paper for more than 10 years, has been reporting on the Hong Kong sports scene for the last 25 years. Through his columns he has covered four Olympic Games and one soccer World Cup. A long-time Asian expert, he has also been to seven consecutive Asian Games.
 

By reaching the final at Wimbledon, Eugenie Bouchard has given the inaugural Hong Kong Tennis Open in September a massive boost. The tournament - which received another shot in the arm this week with Prudential, a Fortune Global 500 company, stepping in as title sponsor - could not have wished for more when their big-name player made it to the apex of the most prestigious of the four grand slams.

When organisers named Bouchard as one of the drawcards earlier this year, the Canadian had only started making waves by reaching the semi-finals at the Australian Open. Her progress has reached a crescendo now, with the 20-year-old rising rapidly up the WTA rankings.

A second successive semi-final appearance at the French Open, followed by her dream run at Wimbledon, has resulted in the French-Canadian catapulting into the top 10 - she will be ranked seventh when the new rankings are released tomorrow.

When organisers named Bouchard as one of the drawcards earlier this year, the Canadian had only started making waves
Alvin Sallay

With the US Open taking place the week before the Hong Kong event, who knows, Bouchard may even break into the top five. She has become a dream commodity for Hong Kong as it returns to top-flight professional tennis after nearly a two-decade break.

The new sponsors wouldn't have bargained for such an eventuality in the months leading up to confirming their involvement. But living by their own creed - invest in the future - they will reap immediate dividends, with the world's hottest player likely to turn up the heat in Hong Kong.

Let's hope this will go a long way towards Prudential signing on for longer than its one year commitment. It will be up to the Hong Kong Tennis Association to put on a good show at Victoria Park (September 8-14) and convince their blue-chip backers this tournament has a lot of potential.

We have to give the HKTA a pat on the back. It is believed the one-year deal is worth close to HK$10 million, which in the baffling absence of funding from the Mega Events Fund will go a long way to making the event a success.

Finding a patron with deep pockets is hard these days. Just ask the Hong Kong Golf Open or the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, two major events struggling to find backers. Herbert Chow Siu-lung, the president of the Hong Kong Tennis Association, can be forgiven for sounding a trifle self-satisfied when categorising tennis as a "popular sport that reaches all walks of life among both the local and expat community".

Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Jonathan McKinley let slip that the government's long-term goal is to one day try to secure both a men's and women's event.

This WTA International Series tournament was secured after the government forked out US$2 million to buy a licence. If this event turns into a success, there is every chance more money will be forthcoming to buy an ATP licence if one becomes available in the future.

The presence of Bouchard in the first year is a major coup. This tournament, by virtue of its standing - offering US$250,000 in prize money - is only guaranteed one top-10 player. But when Bouchard signed on, she was not in the top 10 and in theory Hong Kong could get another leading player.

Chow, however, is a little worried at Bouchard's meteoric rise. By her flying close to the sun, he figures Hong Kong might take a tumble if she - or rather her agent - decides to pull the plug and cite injury. Hong Kong got Bouchard at a bargain basement price, paying less than what she can command now having taken Wimbledon by storm.

The other worry is that if she continues to amaze the world and reaches the latter stages of the US Open, will she be able to make it in time for her first-round match in Hong Kong?

This was apparently one of the reasons why organisers failed to woo Li Na (the other being the appearance fee the Chinese number one demanded) as it was felt she would be playing in the final stages in New York.

Chow, who watched the women's final at Wimbledon yesterday, is optimistic Bouchard will honour her commitment to Hong Kong.

Bouchard and Prudential could be the recipe for success.

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