‘Premier’ league: Hong Kong Tennis Open targets higher status, greater prize money and more world-class players
Organisers are convinced the local tournament is superior to its regional rivals and hope the WTA feels and same
The world class line-up announced on Tuesday for October’s Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open is proof that the tournament is now one of the top events in the WTA’s “International” band of competitions and is the envy of others, according to one of the organisers of the fledgling tournament.
As a second group of marquee names was confirmed for the October 8-16 tournament, including world number two Angelique Kerber, seven-time major champion Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Samantha Stosur and Alize Cornet, the collective trophy cabinet of the players set to grace Victoria Park heaved under the weight of nine grand slam championships and 66 WTA singles titles.
Four of the players are former world number ones, and if Serena Williams fails to make the final at the US Open in New York this week, it will also include the current world number two in Kerber.
Progress has been so rapid since the Open’s first outing two years ago that Hong Kong Tennis Association chief executive and HKTO tournament director Chris Lai says the event is now looking to shed its “International” class distinction and upgrade to a “Premier” level event over the next three years.
“For the same tier, we definitely compare favourably,” said Lai at the player announcement. “We have two out of the top 10 players, and four out of the top 20. In the ‘International’ series, our line-up is one of the best globally.”
However, the HKTO faces a difficult path to joining the illustrious “Premier” category of tournaments.
“We need to work closely with the WTA,” said Lai. “The WTA are aware of our intention to progress to the higher band. To make this happen we need to attract more high-ranking players.
“The WTA will decide ultimately but it will depend on our past performance, and things like attendance. Higher attendance is always one of our goals. More coverage and more promotion means a better line-up that will attract more players and the public.”
The Open enjoyed record attendances last year with the final three days of competition sold out.
WTA Asia-Pacific vice-president Melissa Pine is due in town for the event and will be keeping a close eye on how the operation is run as well as canvassing feedback from the players.
“The VP is based in Singapore and she will visit the tournament. She was here last year and was impressed. She’ll be looking at how well we do in operating the tournament, and listening to the players’ feedback.”
Another consideration is the financial aspect of becoming a Premier-tier event on the circuit. Each of the 12 events feature prize money of between US$600,000 and US$1 million in comparison to the US$250,000 pot on offer in Hong Kong.
“It will involve an increase in prize money which means we need more sponsors,” said Lai.
Organisers announced last week that last year’s winner Jelena Jankovic would be returning to defend her crown as well as British number one Johanna Konta.