Rules make it hard for organisers

BACKING BLACK: Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic was gifted an All Blacks Sevens jersey by All Blacks star Dan Carter, who presented it to her at her press conference after the match.
BACKING BLACK: Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic was gifted an All Blacks Sevens jersey by All Blacks star Dan Carter, who presented it to her at her press conference after the match.

This year's ASB Classic was a roaring success, but it will be increasingly harder to get top-drawer players to the tournament.

Ana Ivanovic beat Venus Williams 6-2 5-7 6-4 in a thrilling final on Saturday - the first time the tournament has had two stars with such high profiles battle it out for a title.

However, having a final like that could be the exception rather than the norm in the future unless the WTA ease up on its strict rules.

The Classic is an International level WTA tournament, which is the second tier, behind Premier tournaments such as Brisbane.

As such there are restrictions put in place by the WTA over who can or can't come to Auckland.

An International tournament is allowed just one top-10 player and each top-10 player can only play in an International tournament once every six months.

That means it is impossible for Venus to come with her sister, Serena, next year and for Ivanovic to return if she gets back into the top 10.

What's more ridiculous is that the Classic was willing to pay world No 8 Jelena Jankovic an appearance fee to come to Auckland this year, but wasn't able to because of the WTA rules. As a result she went to Brisbane where she made it to the semifinals, but didn't get paid any appearance fee.

So Jankovic and the Classic lost out, while Brisbane, who had five other top-10 players entering their draw, got someone that didn't give their tournament much extra pulling power.

There are 30 International tournaments on the WTA calendar and only five of them didn't lose money last year - the Classic was one of them - but it is clearly a model that's not sustainable.

"There is a compromise there that can work, that is going to have players still in the best possible shape, while also making sure that tournaments get what they need as well," said tournament director Karl Budge, who is also on the WTA's Tournament Council.

"I understand the level we're at and I understand there are bigger tournaments like Brisbane, that pay higher sanction fees and pay higher prize money, so deserve to have stronger fields.

"But I do think that International tournaments do rely on things to help sell tickets, sell sponsorship and other things, and that's the top marquee players.

"We've been very lucky that Venus Williams can come here with her ranking, but you take out Venus and Ana from those outside the top 10 and there's not a heck of a lot.

"It is a consideration that we need to look at, to make sure we get the best possible fields and that tournaments are as healthy as they can."

The Classic benefited from having two superstars this year, in Ivanovic and Williams. Other times there's just been the one big name player like Lindsay Davenport, Agnieszka Radwanska or Elena Dementieva.

"It is about minimising the risk," Budge said. "We've been burnt in the past in having all of our eggs in one basket and then if there's an injury or a pullout, we're left fairly exposed.

"So rather than putting all of our revenue into one person, we've looked at how we can spread it across a number so we've got depth right throughout the field and we've also got excitement right throughout the field."

The Dominion Post