Tennis Rocks: Defending champion Jelena Jankovic and British number one Johanna Konta confirmed for Hong Kong Tennis Open
The pair will be joined by French Open doubles champions Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic at the October 8-16 Victoria Park tournament, with more names to be announced next week
Organisers of the 2016 Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open outlined their plans to boost tennis in the community and ramped up the preparations for this year’s competition on Tuesday when they revealed the first set of marquee players for the October 8-16 event.
Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic will return to defend her title and will be joined by British number one Johanna Konta.
French Open doubles champions Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic will also compete at the Victoria Park tournament.
The organisers are scheduled to announce a second batch of star names next Tuesday.
“Jankovic will be coming back as the defending champion,” said Hong Kong Tennis Association chief executive and tournament director Chris Lai.
“And the French number one pair, Garcia and Mladenovic, they are a rising pair.
“We wanted to have a balance between veterans and some new and up-and-coming players.”
Jankovic, 31, won last year’s event in a thrilling final against Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games silver medallist Angelique Kerber after stepping in as an eleventh hour wild card replacement when a host of players were forced to withdraw in the build-up to the tournament.
“If they’re injured we can’t do a lot about it – we have another six weeks before the tournament,” added Lai.
“Hopefully they all will come. Our tournament is towards the end of the season, so players can be tired or get injured.”
The announcement was made on the sidelines of the Tennis Rocks programme launch, which aims to provide free tennis training and equipment to 4,000 participants across the city.
The initiative, which received HK$20 million in funding from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and is spearheaded by pop star Eason Chan, will allow primary school students from deprived areas and senior citizens access to tennis coaching.
“Community is a big element this year,” said deputy tournament director Ronny Chow. “It’s not just about inviting students [to watch the competition]. We are going to benefit more special needs children in mainstream schools.”
After a successful 2015 edition, organisers said they were hoping this year’s tournament will see the Open join the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens and the Hong Kong Marathon as the city’s major sporting events.
“Last year the attendance almost doubled and the field [of players] was much stronger [than 2014],” Lai said.
“This year it’s even stronger, so we hope to make this one of the big three events in Hong Kong. Rugby, obviously, is the biggest, the marathon is probably second, and we hope to be the third one.
“This is our third year and we are building it up quickly. We want people to remember the event. Like every March or April you see the rugby, every October you will see the tennis Open as a landmark event on the sports calendar of Hong Kong.”
Michael Cheng, chairman of the Hong Kong Tennis Association’s executive committee, said he wanted the event - which sits on the WTA International category of tournaments - to break attendance records this year.
“If you look at last year’s event – Friday, Saturday and Sunday it was full. I expect attendance will be higher.
“But there are about 31 or 33 international tournaments on the WTA Tour. This was the second highest attended last year. Hopefully this will be the highest attended event.”
Rio Olympic gold medallist Monica Puig and American Venus Williams were among the players to compete in the Open last year.