John Isner's excuse tough to accept for Heineken Open boss
Defending champion John Isner might have had his last invite to the Heineken Open with the Auckland tournament's boss admitting to feeling frustrated with the American's last-gasp excuse for backing out.
But tennis fans will not be refunded tickets already purchased for next week's event, despite the tournament's director suspecting for some time that Isner and fellow star attraction Gael Monfils – the top Frenchman who also pulled out of last year's event at the last minute – would both eventually pull out.
Tournament director, Karl Budge, admits the duo's exit represents a significant loss to the quality of his Auckland event. However, Budge says he is confident in the legitimacy of Monfils' second excuse in as many years - citing personal issues which may also see him skip a Grand Slam in the upcoming Australian Open. But Budge says Isner's excuse is more difficult to swallow.
Isner, who in 2010 was one half of the longest match in history when the final set of his Wimbledon encounter with qualifier Nicolas Mahut lasted over 11 hours, said earlier this week he wouldn't be coming to Auckland due to feeling tired.
The American is currently partnering women's world No 1 Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup team event in Perth and after 13 sets of tennis this week, will also play in the final tomorrow.
Budge says when he noticed Isner had entered the Hopman Cup, as a late ring-in for compatriot Jack Sock in December, he developed a level of concern around whether the American would follow through on his plans to play in Auckland. Budge says as that suspicion grew, it was the reason he launched a very public Hail Mary earlier this week to try and lure Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal to Auckland.
"I didn't get confirmation about the withdrawals until yesterday morning," Budge told Fairfax Media. "But I had a suspicion when I saw Isner enter the Hopman Cup. With Gael I knew he had some issues he needed to address and that is much easier and clearer to accept. I had a suspicion that both might pull out.
"That is why we went so aggressively after Rafa. We wanted to do everything we could to put on the best possible show. Subsequently we've also been going after a number of other players in the last 24 hours as well.
"The situation around Isner is tougher to accept, for sure. It may be a factor when it comes to us considering future tournaments. We don't have a lot of control; players have the ability to pull out with injury."
Budge said details around the two players' fees was "commercially sensitive" but did confirm that in withdrawing, both Isner or Monfils have forfeited their respective performance payments.
However, it appears plausible that Budge's event may still take a financial hit from the no-shows.
"I can't go into the commercial side of it but we structured those deals around performance," he said. "All of our deals we try to make as performance-based as we can, to give us some protection around this. There won't be any direct payment to those two guys."
Neither will there be payments made back to eager fans who had already bought tickets in anticipation of seeing Isner and Monfils. Budge says ticket pre-sales have been "great" for this year's Heineken Open, but there is no chance of anyone getting a refund.
"Fans are turning up to be part of the event, first and foremost. It's a bit of a bonus really, which players they come out to see," he said. "We would not consider refunds, no other sport would. Does the NZRU look at giving refunds if Dan Carter doesn't play for the All Blacks? It's part and parcel of our sport.
"We certainly sympathise with the fans, but we suffer those losses as well.
"This year we still have the best field we've ever put on in Auckland, still the most amount of top 20 players. That's why we don't put all our eggs in one basket and just go for one superstar."