Maria To Jumpstart Auckland
There comes a time in every tournament directors life when they can’t believe their luck. This moment happened to Richard Palmer, director of Auckland’s ASB Classic, this week and I can only imagine the conversation that took place.
Palmer: “Yeah G’day Richie here”
Agent: “Hi, I’m calling regarding the ASB Classic and would like to speak to the tournament director”
Palmer: “Yup that’s me mate, no secretaries here, what can I do for ya?”
Agent: “Er, well I’m calling on behalf of Maria Sharapova and am pleased to inform you she is accepting your invitation to play in Auckland next year”
Palmer: “Bloody fantastic mate. Anna Chakvetadze did you say?”
Agent: “Uh no, Maria Sharapova”
*sound of phone dropping*
Palmer: “Sharapova? Auckland? As in New Zealand? There’s not an Auckland in Europe is there?”
Agent: “That’s correct Sir, Maria would like to play in Auckland, New Zealand.”
Palmer: “Holy hell. Well that’s just fucking fantastic”
Perhaps that isn’t the most accurate portrayal and Palmer probably handled it with slightly more aplomb than I’m imagining, but there’s no denying Sharapova is the biggest name Auckland has had in…well, forever. I’m sure there were a few champagne corks popped (or is that bottles of beer?) after hearing the news. It’s an absolute dream for a tournament like Auckland which struggles to compete with Australian tournaments, doesn’t have a lot of money, and isn’t in a big tennis nation. For whatever reason, Sharapova declined the bigger paychecks across the Tasman, (Palmer said her asking fee was completely reasonable all things considered), and decided on a change of scenery from her usual Hong Kong exhibition. Auckland can’t stop smiling. They now have a name recognisable to almost anyone, tennis fan or not. Her name alone means she’s a bigger catch than higher ranked players like Caroline Wozniacki or Vera Zvonareva, and her trademark scream and pretty looks should draw more people to the tournament than ever before. It’s exactly the kind of publicity a tournament needs to get noticed and attract new fans. Advertised correctly (and how could they not, she’s already headlined the evening news), Auckland could be looking at their most successful tournament ever and a bright future.
Whilst Sharapova will be headlining the women’s game, John Isner has opted to return to the ASB Classic’s sister tournament, the Heineken Open. There were doubts Isner would return after a year which saw him reach a career-high ranking of 18 and turn into an overnight celebrity after a marathon match at Wimbledon. Isner could have sought more money elsewhere, instead he’s returning to a tournament he promised to return to yearly, saying its one of his favourites. With Sharapova and Isner headlining two weeks of tennis in Auckland the tournament is looking at a very successful 2011. If the big names keep coming they may just be able to compete with Australia in the future.