Hong Kong wants to buy back a tennis tournament in either the men's or women's professional tours. It's a nice idea to fill the calendar left barren by the move of the former Salem Open to Beijing. The only problem - it will cost more than $23 million. 'If everything falls into place, Hong Kong could hopefully have a professional tournament by September or October of 2004. Our biggest hurdle is money,' said an optimistic Ken Catton, consultant for the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons Association, yesterday. Following the switch of the SAR's sole ATP tournament to Beijing in September, Hong Kong has been left high and dry. Local officials are now pursuing the idea of acquiring their own professional event, and preferably on the women's WTA Tour. 'Some people think women's tennis is more attractive than the men's game which is all boom, boom, boom. If we were able to get the top players, I would definitely want Hong Kong to have a women's tournament,' Catton said. The TPA, a non-profit organisation, concurred the search was on. 'Yes, we are looking at securing a tour event,' admitted Haider Barma, TPA executive committee member and vice-patron. 'But it is an uphill task because of the money we will need and the current economic climate. 'It is extremely disappointing that Hong Kong lost its only professional tennis tournament to Beijing. We hope that we can replace it, but this will depend on finding commercial sponsors,' added Barma. Tycoon Li Ka-shing's Tom Group last year took control of Tennis Management Limited, the company owned by promoter Lincoln Venancio, who had the local ATP licence. The decision was made to move to Beijing because it was considered commercially more viable and also because it is the host city of the 2008 Olympic Games. The move, which was confirmed last week, brought to an end Hong Kong's long-standing relationship with professional tennis. The ATP Salem Open was held from 1990 to 2002 and before that the TPA used to be involved with the men's tour before deciding to go it alone and hold a special event, the Marlboro Championship. With a vacuum now created by Venancio's decision to move to Beijing, a fresh hunt has begun in earnest and is being carried out by Ken Catton Enterprises, the company that along with the TPA stages the annual Hong Kong Ladies Challenge in early January. American Monica Seles won this year's event. 'The calendars of both tours are full and the only way we can bring a tournament to Hong Kong is to buy one. We are in contact with agents almost on a daily basis to see what is available, or becoming available. When the opportunity arises we will put it to the TPA to see which way Hong Kong should go,' said Catton. Last year the ATP event in Tashkent was up for sale and it was bought by interests in Bangkok which will host the event for the first time in September. An ATP tournament in Bali is also believed to be up for grabs. According to Catton, the current asking price for a tier two event - the present facilities at Victoria Park only conform to the requirements of a tier two event - on the WTA Tour is US$3 million. 'A similar class event on the men's tour will be cheaper, but we would have to pay appearance fee to attract the bigger names which in the end could cost us the same. A tier two women's event would guarantee us three out of the top 10 players in the world,' said Catton. Catton said the ideal scenario would be for Hong Kong to one day be able to host a men's and women's tournament side-by-side. But that would depend on new facilities being built. 'A men's and women's event together is ideal but that is some way down the road. We will need a multi-purpose stadium to be built. We are looking at five to seven years from now, around 2010. For the moment we must try and get a tournament. 'The 2003 calendar for both tours are closed. We are looking at 2004. The calendar for next year will start formulating by Wimbledon and should be in place by the US Open in September. We have seven to eight months to get cracking. If we can find the money, hopefully Hong Kong will have a tournament next year,' added Catton.