Ivan Lendl says big names are the way to go for Hong Kong
Hong Kong will have to rely on "special events" like the BNP Paribas Showdown to cater for its all-star appetite, said the legendary Ivan Lendl, who will appear in a new exhibition event at the AsiaWorld-Arena next March.
The event, which will coincide with the International Tennis Federation's inaugural World Tennis Day on March 4, will feature China's first grand slam winner Li Na, who will take on former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in a best-of-three-sets match, while golden oldies Lendl and John McEnroe will revive their famous rivalry in a pro-set encounter.
Lendl, the former eight-time grand slam winner, sounded a tad nostalgic yesterday as he harked back to the great times he had in Hong Kong in the 1980s when the city used to host an ATP tournament, and sounded a warning to the game's authorities on the need for big-name players to be present if the sport wanted to return to its hey-day.
"If you [Hong Kong] don't get a top-tier event then you won't get the top players turning up," Lendl said from his home in Florida. "We used to love coming to Hong Kong, which is a fantastic city, but if there is no big ATP tournament then Hong Kong will have to rely on special events like this for the chance to see the best."
Lendl has a special place in his heart for Hong Kong, saying: "I won one of my first ATP tournaments in my career in 1980 in Hong Kong.
"Probably the last time I was there was in 1992 and I'm really looking forward to coming back. And it will be special playing John again, but this will be more about entertaining the fans than serious tennis," he said.
"We both still hit the ball well but we don't move as well as we used to and I don't expect the fans will expect us to play the way we used to 25 years ago," said the 52-year-old Lendl.
That will be left to Li, winner of the French Open last year, and Wozniacki as organisers unveiled what is expected to be the first of many such showdowns in Hong Kong.
"Yes, we want to make it an annual event," said Jerry Solomon, president of StarGames, the promoters of the event which had its genesis in an event with the same name that has been held at Madison Square Garden in New York for the past five years. "The popularity of tennis in Asia made it natural for us to pursue an event in this region and the time was right to expand this to a global event with the World Tennis Day platform," Solomon said.
Tickets for the event, which is supported by the Hong Kong Tennis Association, will go on sale on Monday on Hong Kong Ticketing and are priced from HK$400 to HK$1,350. The arena, being used for the first time to host a tennis event, will cater for 6,500 fans.