The future of next year's Salem Open still appears to be hanging in the balance after title sponsor R J Reynolds declined to confirm if it would back the 1999 event yesterday. R J Reynolds vice-president Don Fahnestock said only that his firm had 'certain commitments' to next year's tournament. Although Fahnestock said he hoped the tournament would continue to operate, he stopped short of revealing if the tobacco giant would lend its support to the tournament next year. 'We have certain commitments beyond 1998 and that is all I can say,' Fahnestock said. Asked to give an indication as to when the company would confirm its backing for the 1999 event, Fahnestock said: 'Let's just concentrate on 1998 first. Once we've done that, then we can start thinking about the future. 'At the moment, we just want to focus on making this year's Salem Open the most successful ever held.' Next year will be the last where tobacco sponsorship and advertising is permitted in Hong Kong. Legislation banning tobacco sponsorship and advertising was passed by the Government last year, making it illegal from the end of 1999 onwards. The onset of anti-tobacco legislation has already led to this year's Marlboro Championships tennis tournament being axed from Hong Kong's sporting calendar. Organisers yesterday announced a modest field for this year's Salem Open at Victoria Park, which takes place from April 6-12. Although world number one Pete Sampras and perennial favourite Michael Chang have both confirmed for the event, this year's 32-strong field will include only three other players ranked in the world's top 50. In a live telephone conference at yesterday's announcement, Sampras said he was looking forward to challenging for the crown he won on his appearance here in 1996. 'It's a good court. The crowd is pretty close and there's always a good atmosphere when you play,' Sampras said. 'The playing surface at Victoria Park is also very fair. It's medium-pace - not too fast and not too slow, which suits my game,' he added. 'It's exciting to be playing in Hong Kong after last year. A lot of people have told me it hasn't changed all that much, but I'm looking forward to seeing for myself,' Chang said. 'I always thrive in Hong Kong and my record in the Salem has been pretty good. But it gets harder . . . the depth of talent in the men's game means there are no easy matches.'