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Up and downs in Soweto Open search

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By SAPA

Johannesburg – The search for “a bigger and better tournament” when the Soweto Open is revived at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex in Jabavu next year is in full progress – but with some up and downs in the process.

The main priorities are to include a major drawcard to generate widespread interest in the event and to achieve furthering interest in tennis in areas likely Soweto, while unearthing a fresh vein of talent.

However, Tennis SA media consultant Bruce Davidson confirmed on Saturday the R800 000 prize money tournament, which would include both men's and women's events, would not be able to include ATP players ranked among the top 50 in the world because of its likely Challenger status.

“This is due to the ruling by the ATP to give players ranked outside the top 50 the chance to win titles,” explained Davidson.

“With such a great depth of talent in tennis worldwide right now, the door still remains open to attract a top-class entry.”

Confirming this is the fact that such renowned players as Michael Lodra, Gael Monfils, David Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt are all ranked outside of the world top 50.

Lodra, ranked 52nd, beat several top-20 players to reach the Paris Open Masters semi-final recently while French Davis Cup star Monfils is ranked 78th.

Former Masters champion Nalbandian, at 81, and former world number one Hewitt, now in 82nd position, would also be attractive targets.

Veteran former world top tenner James Blake, a prodigy of the iconic Ashe, after whom the Soweto venue was named and who came up with the idea of structuring the complex, may now be past his best, but he would be an appropriate and singularly sentimental choice.

Finance, however, remained a problem in signing big-name players, despite the R5-million injection from the Department of Sport, which has allowed the Soweto Open to feature again on the international calendar after it was cancelled this year.

The ATP ban on top-50 players featuring in Challenger tournaments meant top-ranked South African Kevin Anderson, 36th in the world, would not be eligible to play in the Soweto Open.

The disturbing drop in the rankings of the country's other frontliners, Rik De Voest and Izak van der Merwe, meant they might only obtain entry into next year's tournament via wildcards.

Van der Merwe, ranked 220, is the current Soweto Open men's singles champion and De Voest, now ranked 214, has reached two finals.

Davidson said the date for the Soweto Open was still in the pipeline, with Tennis SA in negotiations with both the men's ATP and women's WTA organisations.

“The event is 100 per cent certain but the issue is determining available dates on the ATP and WTA calendars – one that fits in with both the men's and women's circuit.” – Sapa

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