Articles of Hong Kong Ladies Challenge Exhibition 2003
Thursday November 21 2002
Williams act too rich at $4m
The Williams sisters will again be missing from the Hong Kong Ladies Challenge field in January after demanding a staggering $2 million each to appear. Organisers said yesterday Serena and Venus, the world number one and two, were 'too expensive'.
'We approached the Williams sisters and found out that they wanted in excess of $2 million each to play in Hong Kong. That is a lot of money and a sum we simply couldn't afford,' said tournament co-director Terry Catton.
'Both Williams sisters came to our tournament in 1999 when their careers were taking off. They were making a name for themselves at that time, but even then they were expensive.
'At the same time, we tried to invite them back last year and the year before that, but their asking prices were too high.
'Two million is a figure that the top men's players like Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi would probably be asking.'
The Hong Kong tournament, from January 1-4 at Victoria Park, will be headed by nine-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles. Elena Dementieva, last year's Hong Kong finalist, will return as part of a three-pronged Russian attack, along with world number 11 Anastasia Myskina and Maria Sharapova, the world number six ranked junior player. Also appearing at Victoria Park will be Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva and American Alexandra Stevenson, along with Chinese junior player Peng Shuai.
Organisers said either defending Hong Kong champion Jennifer Capriati, Yugoslav Jelena Dokic or former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport would make up the list of eight players depending on 'sponsors and budget'.
The William sisters, who between them have won more than US$15 million in career prizemoney, are hot property, but many tournaments cannot afford them - beginning in Hong Kong.
'Any major sporting event would like to get the top players. But it is extremely difficult to attract those sort of players, especially in this economic climate, where it is very difficult to secure sufficient sponsorship,' said Catton.
'We basically have three players who are available [Capriati, Dokic and Davenport] and we still have a few weeks before the tournament starts. If we can secure another sponsor, we will be able to attract another marquee name,' he said.
'But what we have right now is the most competitive field we have ever had. Five players from the field are ranked in the top 20 and any of those top five players are capable of winning.'
Catton said Seles would be welcomed back to Hong Kong as perhaps the most famous name in women's tennis. Former world number one Seles last played in Hong Kong in an exhibition match against Serena Williams at Victoria Park two years ago. Left-handed Seles has won 53 career singles titles. She enjoyed her best year in 1992 when she won three Grand Slams - the Australian, French and US Opens.
'Monica is a nine-time Grand Slam champion and the most determined fighter on the women's tour. She was also recently voted the Sanex Hero of the year. She will be strongly challenged, however, by a host of new young players who are making quite a name for themselves.
'Fans will quickly learn about Anastasia Myskina, the world number 11 player from Russia. Not only has she overtaken Anna Kournikova and Dementieva as Russia's number one, she is not very shy about her appeal off the court either.'
Catton said US star Stevenson, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2000, had demolished Capriati twice in the past two months. Stevenson's other claim to fame is that her biological father is legendary basketball star Julius Erving.
World number 19 Dementieva will return to Hong Kong hoping to go one better than last year when she had Capriati against the ropes before losing the final in three tough sets. A silver medallist at the Sydney Olympics, Dementieva is a power hitter who has had impressive wins over Martina Hingis and is tipped to break into the top 10.
Chinese junior Peng, who trains in Florida, is considered by many to be a potential top 20 star. Sharapova, 15, is also destined for stardom, having the looks and the talent to even outshine fellow Russian Kournikova.
Maleeva will make her Hong Kong debut in the tournament as the world number 14. She ended the season with wins over Venus Williams, Amelie Mauresmo and Davenport.