Hong Kong Tennis Open can be Asia's answer to Wimbledon or the Australian Open, say organisers
Organisers hope to make Hong Kong Open an important stopover on the WTA tour and develop reputation for attracting elite players
Organisers aim to transform the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open into the premier stopover on the WTA Tour's International Series and develop an identity similar to the grand slams, says a HKTA executive.
Michael Cheng, chairman of the Hong Kong Tennis Association's executive committee, said organisers were ahead of schedule with a long-term target of making the Hong Kong event an important stop on the WTA tour.
"People know that Wimbledon is in July, and that the Australian Open is at the beginning of the year," said Cheng. "We want people to anticipate the start of the Hong Kong Tennis Open in that way."
After the success of last week's event, partly publicly financed through the government's Mega Events Fund, Cheng said he hoped the tournament would develop a reputation as a place where the sport's elites look forward to playing.
"We want to attract players who are looking to secure valuable points to make the WTA Finals in Singapore like Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber were this time."
This year's edition climaxed on Sunday night when Serbia's Jelena Jankovic fought back from the brink of defeat to grab a dramatic three-set victory over top seed Kerber.
World No 9 Kerber was trying to guarantee her place at the lucrative end-of-season championships in Singapore.
The US$250,000 tournament's second outing since being reinstated to the WTA calendar after a 21-year absence was a hit with both players and spectators, and organisers said attendance figures were up on last year's event, with almost 20,000 people attending throughout the week.
"Alize Cornet commented on the intimacy of the Tournament Village and the packed stadium made it feel like the event has a soul already, and that shows that it's beginning to grow an identity from within," said Cheng. "The positive feedback from the players has been overwhelming."
"People's Monday" was an initiative this year to give the public free access to the tournament grounds. It attracted more than 6,500 people on the opening day.
Spectators flocked to Victoria Park to see the big names on show and centre court was sold out for Saturday's and Sunday's last rounds.
HKTA chief executive Chris Lai said he was pleased the event was on track to become one of the city's biggest sporting spectacles.
"[Sunday] reminded us of the heydays of the '90s when [Pete] Sampras, [Andre] Agassi and [Michael] Chang competed in Hong Kong," added Lai.
The build-up to the Victoria Park spectacle was marred by a series of withdrawals by top players - the final blow being when top-ranked Spaniard Garbine Muguruza pulled out on the eve of the competition, citing an injury she had worsened at the China Open.
"The player fields were an area we identified as wanting to improve," said Cheng. "And they were much stronger than last year."
The high-profile withdrawals threatened to overshadow the tournament, but organisers had a contingency plan to ensure other stellar names were able to step in as last-minute replacements.
The triumphant Jankovic was one such replacement and only committed to participating in Hong Kong days before the tournament began.
"Another pleasing element was seeing the local community get involved," said Cheng. "I hope this event will inspire youngsters to pick up a racket.
Community engagement was an area that was highlighted this year, with the introduction of several HKTA schemes to get more youngsters playing tennis. Students from more than 70 local schools were invited to attend the Victoria Park event as well as clinics and talks given by players.