New Classic boss pleased with talented lineup

ON COURT: Two-time Grand Slam winner and current world No 71 Svetlana Kuznetsova will be in action on day one of the ASB Classic.
ON COURT: Two-time Grand Slam winner and current world No 71 Svetlana Kuznetsova will be in action on day one of the ASB Classic.

To use an appropriate analogy, new ASB Classic tennis tournament director Karl Budge must feel like he has held serve in a challenging first year in the job.

Budge yesterday unveiled his field for the 2013 edition of the Classic (December 31-January 5) in Auckland, boosted by the addition of a couple of former world No 2s from Russia in the form of Vera Zvonareva and tournament regular Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Budge yesterday also confirmed Kazakhstan's world No 29 Yaroslava Shvedova as the sixth seed, joining an entry list headed by world No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, and also including defending champion Zheng Jie of China, and fast-rising German Julia Goerges among its big names.

Kiwi ace Marina Erakovic, at 67 in the world, also qualifies for direct entry for the second time.

All things considered, Budge has done extremely well to put together a field comparable with previous instalments.

He has a new competing event in China - a US$500,000 event in Shenzhen - and a seriously upgraded Brisbane tournament with $US1 million in prizemoney to contend with, sparking fears the Classic would face a serious talent downgrade.

But in the end Budge, with just US$220,000 in prizemoney (NZ$270,500) to disperse, has put together a field with a cutoff of 78 in the world (it was 71 this year), including six players ranked in the world's top 30, three former world No 2s, two grand slam title-holders and a pair of previous champions.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that we've been able to provide the best possible showcase for tennis fans," he said yesterday. "We've been very strategic in who we approached, and have gone out and identified players we think we can get who are going to tick the boxes we want to see here."

Budge considers the 28-year-old Zvonareva, with 12 career titles, as a prime example of the smart recruitment policy.

"She's had injuries this year and her ranking dropped [to 96] because she hasn't been able to defend points. She's a top-15 player, a top-10 player really, and has been for a long time. Twelve months ago she was one of the eight best players in the world."

Zvonareva and Kuznetsova, a beaten semifinalist in Auckland this year, won the doubles at this year's Australian Open and both provide the top-end class the tournament needs.

Zvonareva, a two-time finalist in Auckland, reached a career high of world No 2 a couple of years ago when she was runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open, while two-time grand slam winner Kuznetsova made the fourth round at Roland Garros in May but struggled with a knee injury thereafter.

Budge also denied the tournament lacked the star quality of a marquee name. "Radwanska is a big name," he said. "To get the world No 4 player, and she was No 2 after the US Open when we signed her, that's huge.

"I don't know too many sports events in New Zealand that are attracting that quality of player here. There's a lot of interest in this tournament from big players and we just need to make sure we continue to cater for their needs."

The tournament would also have included former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki but for a late form surge that took her back into the top 10 - and out of the Classic's reach. "We had good conversation with Caroline . . . It was just unfortunate the ranking system held us up," Budge said.

He also confirmed he was on the cusp of announcing two new sponsorships that would more than make up for the withdrawal of long-time backer Kia Motors New Zealand. 

Fairfax Media