The perfect storm: ASB Classic’s return ruined for now

Emma Raducanu’s withdrawal has not helped the beleaguered ASB Classic.
Photo: Photosport / Chris Symes

ASB Classic tournament director Nicolas Lamperin would have woken up Friday thinking things could only get better from here. That’s because, after five days of shocking weather, they really couldn’t have gotten much worse.

Then he would have seen the headlines, quoting a clearly upset Emma Raducanu. The tournament draw card suffered the ignominy of withdrawing from the Classic with an ankle injuryfor which she blamed the indoor court surfaces the players had been moved to.

After Raducanu’s charming interactions with the media on her way to the second round match, where she said all the right things about coming to Auckland and using it as preparation for the upcoming Australian Open, that would have had to sting.

If that wasn’t enough, word came through mid-morning that second seed and world number 11 Holgar Rune pulled out of the men’s tournament, due to start next week.

So far, so bad.

There is at least some sort of recourse with Raducanu. Her complaints about the court surface situation, while understandably frustrating, apply to everyone equally. She has been remarkably injury-prone since her breakthrough US Open win, which is why she entered under a protected ranking spot rather than a seeding that would usually accompany such a high-profile player.

Taking nothing away from how disappointing this is in the lead up to the Australian Open later in the month, it was either play indoors or don’t play at all.

The one bright spot is that the court surfaces and change of scene has not slowed down number one seeded American Coco Gauff one bit, who cruised to a second-round win over former Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin.

Arguably even more impressive has been Canadian Layleh Fernandez, who crushed Austrian Julia Grabher in her match, dropping only one game.

The biggest issue though is that while both women are playing very good tennis and could potentially meet in the final on Sunday, no one can actually watch it live while the rain comes down.

The indoor set-up has no stands, leaving the court looking and feeling like we were back in peak Covid precaution times. It also hasn’t been designed with broadcast in mind, either, with the low camera angles and dark spots meaning that the ball essentially gets lost to anyone watching as soon as it clears the net to the far side of the court.

This is not how it was supposed to happen. The return of the ASB Classic was the start of an interesting couple of months of hosting sport in New Zealand, with the World Sevens Series set to return (albeit for one last time) after its pandemic-enforced hiatus, while the English cricket team arrives in February for an anticipated series against the Black Caps.

The joke in the media room is that everyone can basically reprint their pieces from the last rain-affected tournament about how Stanley Street needs a roof, but even then, that’s pretty unfair given the tournament has had three long years without any revenue. Construction of such a project would not be cheap and given Auckland’s glacial relationship with developing any sort of sports infrastructure, probably wouldn’t be quick either.

No one is really sure when rain has disrupted the tournament to this extent before, although 2018 was particularly bad with the quarter finals and semis having to take place on the same day. The one difference there was just a couple of days of the skies opening, while this year the unseasonable precipitation seems set to mess with the men’s tournament too once that gets under way.

Let’s hope, for the tournament’s sake, that the forecasters have got it wrong.


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