Graf signed to headline revamped Challenge

WORLD number one Steffi Graf will make her Hong Kong debut in January next year.

German Graf, who this month won her third Grand Slam title of the year at the United States Open, will take part in the new-look, Opel-presented First Pacific Bank Challenge at Victoria Park.

The 24-year-old winner of five Wimbledon singles titles will be one of five players who will do battle in a three-day, expanded tournament from January 5-7.

Organisers are also hoping to attract another top-five player for the annual exhibition, which in previous years was a one-day event featuring two matches.

Last year saw former world number one Monica Seles beat American Jennifer Capriati.

Marcia Canady of promoters International Management Group said Graf will miss the Hopman Cup team event to participate in Hong Kong.

''Graf rarely plays exhibition events and usually at that time of the year she takes part in the Hopman Cup. So we are very lucky that she will be in Hong Kong,'' she said.

''We hope to confirm another top-five player next week.'' Two top-30 and two top-60 players will also take part in the six-woman tournament, and Canady did not rule out inviting Canada's former Hong Kong player Patricia Hy and recent Digital Open winner Wang Shi-ting, of Taiwan.

These four players will be involved in a two-match preliminary round on the first day of the tournament with the winner earning the right to meet Graf and another top player in Thursday's semi-finals.

Friday will see the third and fourth place play-off followed by the final.

Although prize money is not offered, the players are paid appearance money.

And with an expanded format, the cost of bringing players to the territory has also increased.

James Ng, managing director of First Pacific Bank, would not reveal details.

''IMG do not want me to reveal how much,'' said Ng. ''But it would probably involve a huge amount of money.

''We are delighted to have Graf in Hong Kong and every cent is worth it to have such a phenomenal personality here.'' Barry To, of presenters Opel who also sponsor Graf, added: ''Enough money is involved to make this event a success.'' Graf is the only big-time women's player yet to appear in Hong Kong.

In the past seven years, her ranking has not dropped below two. She has more than 75 career titles and has won more than US$12 million in prize money.

Players taking part in Hong Kong will be using the event as a warm-up for the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open.