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Serena Williams won this year’s ASB Classic making headlines in New Zealand and around the world.
Tennis New Zealand is looking for ways to fill the gap and maintain a sporting profile this summer.
With the announcement this month the ASB Classic won’t take place in January, tennis will lose its usual time in the spotlight.
At this stage, the Australian Open in Melbourne looks set to be going on, but without the Classics, there wouldn’t be world-class tennis for New Zealanders to watch live early next year.
Tennis NZ has a women’s Classic, with Tennis Auckland running it on its behalf and Tennis NZ chief executive Julie Paterson saying they will take a financial hit because there is no women’s Classic.
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“There will be financial implications for Tennis NZ, but putting that aside, the biggest disappointment is that the ASB Classic tournament is a shop front for tennis,” said Paterson.
“We have really big tennis visibility time until January and people in New Zealand are directly linking summer to tennis, because we have a whole month where he is front and center.
“So that’s a real challenge for us, and we are thinking about how we can keep the profile of tennis high during that period of time.
“Potentially, what other tournaments we might be able to have, if not at that time, then later.
“But obviously nothing we do will have the same visibility as the ASB tournament.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s understandable and I know that the Auckland Tennis team will very quickly turn their attention to 2022 and ensure that the event will get bigger and better.”
Tennis NZ this year holds World Tennis Tour tournaments in Te Anau and Hamilton. This is a low-level ITF event, which gives New Zealand players the opportunity to take valuable ranking points, while remaining in the country.
However, these two events are in doubt for 2020, even though Te Anau could take place as an invited event.
“The challenge we face right now is that we are not allowed to run professional ITF events that only New Zealanders can participate in,” Paterson said.
“So it really limits our ability to do anything other than a New Zealand based league type, or invite event.”
Under the current government border restrictions, non-New Zealanders require exemptions to enter the country and it is likely that this exemption will not be granted for World Tennis Tour tournaments.
“If they open up the border with Australia, we’ll be fine,” said Tennis NZ high-performance director Christophe Lambert.
“The fact that there is no ASB Classic creates problems for our players. Over the past few years, this has been a time when everyone was here and there was a big buzz.
“This year, I would say it’s not too good for the players to come back (from abroad), knowing they will have to spend two weeks in isolation. So we lost a little bit of momentum. “
While tennis takes a hit at the top level, at the grassroots, Tennis NZ recently wrapped up an excellent Love Tennis Weekend, where people are encouraged to try the sport at their local clubs.
More than 200 clubs take part in the Love Tennis Weekend, October 10-11.
There were 25,000 visitors over the two afternoons and around 2000 new club members signed up.
The leading club for enrolling people is Havelock North, with 115 new members.
“We are very excited this year,” said Paterson.
“It’s a good effort from the region for everyone to come out and be proactive and invite the club to join.
“The NZ Tennis Board made a decision early during Covid on how we can support the tennis community quickly, one of which is offering free Love Tennis to clubs this year. So Tennis NZ is subsidizing the national campaign.
“The number of new members is great, but the tennis profile is amazing and the involvement of the community is really cool.”
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