The Future of the Women's ASB Classic

Thursday, 07 September 2023

Tennis New Zealand CEO Julie Paterson remains optimistic about the future of the women’s ASB Classic and the key role within the WTA it will continue to play.

Paterson attended WTA meetings during the US Open in New York last week and during them the new restrictions which will be placed on WTA 250 level tournaments from next year were discussed.

The ASB Classic is a WTA 250 level event, so from next year it isn’t allowed to recruit any players from inside the top 10 and have a maximum of two ranked between 11-30. There is an exemption allowing a defending champion to return, which is why world No 6 Coco Gauff is able to come back.

The WTA has made the change to encourage higher ranked players to participate in more WTA 1000 and 500 level tournaments, with their goal being that within 10 years WTA tournaments at these levels will offer equal prize money to ATP events.

Understandably, WTA 250 level tournaments are concerned about the change. The ASB Classic is regarded as a world leading WTA 250 tournament and others in this tier look to Tennis New Zealand, the owners of it, for support to retain the status of these events.

“The fortunate thing is everyone recognises that Auckland is a top tier WTA 250 event,” Paterson said.

“That was reflected in the discussions with the other WTA 250 licence holders in the meeting.

“That’s gratifying, but it also puts us in a position of needing to continue to be a leader in this tournament space and not wanting to lose that.”

The WTA has talked about 250 tournaments becoming more regional focussed, but not all of them are the same. Some, like the ASB Classic, are closer to what would be expected from a WTA 500 event, others are just above the level of a WTA 125 tournament.

“What the 250s have to think hard about is to position themselves not to be a 125,” Paterson said.

“We’ve done that clearly, and there will be a collective of 250s, which Auckland will be one of, that will have a discussion around what we can do to position the 250s as quality events that work well for the players at the level that they’re playing at, but also the level of players we want coming in.

“We are fortunate that we are in week one of the year. It’s a premium position leading into the Australian Open, because players want to get back into the swing of it before the Australian Open and some might want to play down.

“If they’ve been off injured, they might want to play at a 250, rather than come straight in at a WTA 500.

“So there is a need for this level of tournament, but we have to make sure they’re not diminished and become something that sits more towards a WTA 125, rather than a WTA 500.”

The ASB Classic has regularly been able to secure the biggest names in women’s tennis and Paterson doesn’t want that to change.

“Auckland will always continue to advocate and push for the best players we can at the tournament,” she said.

“We are fortunate with the women’s ranking and that players dip in and out of the top 10 and we’ve still got two exemptions from 11 to 30. So we’re still going to have top name players we can target to come along.

“But we will continue to push to have an exemption around a top 10.”

There has been talk of the WTA following a similar model to the men’s Tour where there are no restrictions on what players an ATP 250 can sign up. 

Paterson doesn’t feel the WTA will look to make any further changes until it has had time to assess how the model coming in for 2024 works.

“I get that they need to give it a go first, before they could make any decisions about possible changes,” Paterson said.

“Nico (Lamperin, ASB Classic tournament director) and I have had conversations around how we’ll continue to make our voice heard about the continued viability of the WTA 250 tournaments and how important it is for this level to not be ignored. We’ll continue to have a really strong voice around that.

“There are ways of working around the restrictions, not least of all, because the players and their rankings fluctuate a lot,” she added.

“There also might be times when players in the top 10 are not as attractive to our audience as other players might be.

“The big upside is that Nico is so well connected with the players and player managers. He can see up and coming players that are going to be big names and has contacts with grand slam winners that are no longer sitting in the top 30.

“I’m not as worried about this as I initially was when they first started talking about it and I think we can maintain the level of tournament we have.”

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