From humble beginnings to the current sold-out sessions, the women’s international tennis event, now called the ASB Classic, has come a long way. No women’s international tennis tournament had taken place for five years in Auckland when Ari Hallenberg and Global Sports saw a hole in the market place and approached Tennis New Zealand. The rest is history. Five people have been at the helm of the tournament since the Nutri-Metics 1985-86 Women’s International: Brenda Perry, James Haggerty, Tom Kiely, John Fairhurst and Richard Palmer. Here are some highlights from the past 25 years of women's professional tennis in Auckland.
The ASB Classic signed one of its biggest names in history, Russian superstar Maria Sharapova. The event completely sold out thanks to the appearances of Sharapova, two-time grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and former number one Dinara Safina. Defending champion Yanina Wickmayer would fight her way past Chinese Peng Shaui in the semifinals for a chance to repeat her 2010 victory but was stopped in the final by Hungarian Greta Arn, who had upset Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Arn's win in the final was her first tournament win since her first victory in 2007.
A record five players inside the top 20 rankings entered the tournament - No 12 Flavia Pennetta, Li Na at 15, Yanina Wickmayer 16, following by 17 Francesca Schiavone and Virginie Razzano at 19. After plenty of controversy over an alleged drug case, Belgian player Wickmayer won the tournament with ruthless efficiency defeated Pennetta in straight sets in the final. Throughout the tournament Pennetta and Schiavone provided the large crowds with plenty of Italian flair while Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm proved to be ageless by making the quarters at age 38. The world No 1 combination of Cara Black and Leizel Huber proved too strong in the doubles draw taking the title over South African Natalie Grandin and American Laura Granville.
World No4 Elena Dementieva lived up to her star billing, taking the singles title over fellow Russian Elena Vesnina. Dementieva delighted the crowds with power, panache and personality, too. Kiwi Marina Erakovic came unstuck against Dementieva in the second round, but once again proved a tough competitor. Second seed Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark thrilled the crowds and showed her potential (even while serving blindfolded for video podcasts). She went on to the US Open final later in the year. The inaugural tournament coordinator, Brenda Perry returned as the 2009 tournament director.
An event to be remembered with former world No1 Lindsay Davenport not disappointing as she won the title. Kiwi teen Erakovic also wowed the crowds, reaching the semifinals. Ranked 153, she had beaten fellow Kiwi wildcard Ellen Barry, dispatched Ashley Harkleroad 7-6 7-5, then played the match of the tournament, against two-time finalist and world No21 Zvonareva. Fans played every point alongside the tenacious Erakovic, feeling joy, pain and then the celebration of her 6-3 2-6 7-6(5) victory – the first local player to reach the semis since Cordwell in 1990. Unfortunately the exciting journey ended there, beaten by hard-hitting Aravane Rezai 6-3 7-5. Three-time Grand Slam winner Davenport was clinical in claiming the title 6-2 6-2, her third in four tournaments after returning to the Tour following the birth of her son. After more than 10 years in charge, tournament director Richard Palmer steps aside.
Four top 20 players graced the courts for the first time, world No12 Jelena Jankovic the top seed. A US Open semifinalist a few months earlier, she met Zvonareva in the final, one of the most dramatic matches ever witnessed in the ASB Classic’s history. Jankovic won 7-6(9) 5-7 6-3 in front of an enthralled crowd. Second seed and former Roland Garros champ Anastasia Myskina fell in the first round, having not recovered from a broken bone in her foot. Erakovic won through to the second round as a wildcard and, in the qualifying, Papakura teenager Shona Lee, ranked above 600, defeated British No1 Anne Keothavong.
The big names of Nadia Petrova – world No9 – and Daniela Hantuchova reached the semifinals. Petrova had brushed through her first three matches, but was stopped by a determined Marion Bartoli and injury. Bartoli went on to capture her first WTA tournament title, beating Vera Zvonareva with a near-perfect display 6-2 6-2. Top seeds Elena Likhovtseva and Vera Zvonareva won the doubles title over fourth seeds Emilie Loit and Barbora Strycova.
The year of the Kiwis. Unranked 16-year-old Marina Erakovic made the second round of singles. Leanne Baker made the doubles final with Italian Francesca Lubiani. Slovenia’s Katarina Srebotnik won the singles over Japan’s Shinobu Asagoe and together they won the doubles title.
Eden Marama made the second round by beating fellow Kiwi Shelley Stephens, only to narrowly lose to top 50 player Anca Barna of Germany. Daniilidou became only the second person to win two titles in a row (American Patty Fendick having won 1998 and 1999), defeating Harkleroad in the final. The match of the tournament was Kristina Brandi beating Amy Frazier in the second round by saving nine match points and coming back from 1-5 down.
Greek Eleni Daniilidou beat Korean Yoon Jeong Cho in a third-set tiebreak in the final of a tournament that had 16 nations in the main singles draw. Grand Slam winner Mary Pierce made her New Zealand debut, but lost her second round to doubles partner Paola Suarez. A young Ashley Harkleroad qualified and showed her potential.
A woman called Anna Kournikova plays the Classic, reaching the semis. However, she couldn’t quite nail her first WTA singles title, unable to stop giant-killer Anna Smashnova in the semi. Smashnova won the title over Tatiana Panova in arguably the physically shortest final in WTA history. Seeds one, two and four were knocked out in the first round, but no one seemed to notice.
Designated a Tier V event for this year, Meilen Tu defeated fourth seed Kristina Brandi, eighth seed Lilia Osterloh and, in the final, sixth seed Paola Suarez for her first career title. Top seed and world No12 Sandrine Testud lost her first match to Israeli Anna Smashnova. Bulgarian-Kiwi Pavlina Nola made the second round in singles and Alex Fusai and Rita Grande claimed the doubles title.
Anne Kremer emerged from the tiny European nation of Luxembourg to beat Zimbabwean Cara Black for the singles title. Black, whose brothers Wayne and Byron were regulars on the men’s ATP Tour, teamed with Alex Fusai of France to win the doubles final.
Kiwi Leanne Baker kept local interest alive by making the singles second round, while Niki Tippins became the first New Zealander to beat an overseas player in qualifying. In the final, Frenchwoman Julie Halard-Decugis scored a surprisingly easy 6-4 6-1 win over top seed and defending champion Van Roost.
Promising Kiwi wildcard Rewa Hudson scored a first-round upset over Japan’s Rika Hiraki. Crowd favourite Dominique Van Roost of Belgium needed three hours to defeat Silvia Farina 4-6 7-6 7-5 in a rousing final.
World No9 Anke Huber, the highest-ranked player yet to enter the event, although promotional posters showed her as a lefthander after a photo was inadvertently reversed. A cyclone severely hampered play, but Austrian Marion Maruska emerged from qualifying to take the title.
The first event held pre-Australian Open featured all eight seeds ranked inside the world top 44, five more in the top 50 and the main draw cut-off at 95. Top seed Irina Spirlea was bundled out in the first round by Julie Halard-Decugis. American qualifier Sandra Cacic defeated veteran Barbara Paulus in the final.
This was the last time the Auckland event was held after the Australian Open. Aussie wildcard Nicole Bradkte, who had played the tournament as Nicole Provis during the late 80s, returned to win the singles under the watchful eye of husband and NBA basketballer Mark Bradtke.
Fast thinking by Auckland Tennis marketing man Warwick Oakden snared tournament sponsorship from Amway after Bendon withdrew. American Ginger Helgeson beat Argentinian Ines Gorrochategui in the singles final. Paz and Hy went one better than in 1993 to take out the doubles.
In the quickest professional tennis final ever held in this country, South African Elna Reinach defeated American Carline Kuhlman in 43 minutes for a “double-bagel” scoreline. Reinach also won the doubles title, teaming with Frenchwoman Isabelle Demongeot to beat Mercedes Paz and Patricia Hy.
Belinda Cordwell retired just weeks before the tournament got underway, but Strnadova returned, this time as top seed. She hadn’t lost any of her popularity, the crowd convinced she would win the title, but the experience of American Robin White prevailed in a three-set final.
Two new faces emerged from the Czech Republic as Eva Sviglerova won the event over qualifier and crowd favourite Andrea Strnadova 6-2 0-6 6-1. Kiwi Julie Richardson and Australian Jo-Anne Faull lost the doubles final 3-6 3-6 to Sviglerova and Larisa Savchenko.
Twenty-two-year-old Soviet Leila Meskhi played a controlled, thinking game in the singles final to thrash popular Sabine Appelmans (17) of Belgium, who would go on to make the world’s top 20. Meskhi teamed with Natahlie Medvedeva, sister of Andrei Medvedev, to also win the doubles title. Bulgarian Maggie Maleeva competed in the qualifying and would go on to become world No4.
Local expectations were sky high after Cordwell’s stunning performance at the Australian Open the previous week - she had made the semifinals, where her three-set loss to Helen Sukova nevertheless represented the best performance by any Kiwi women in the sport. On her way to the Auckland final, she outplayed 16-year-old Spaniard Conchita Martinez, who would win Wimbledon five years later. The Kiwi lost the final to defending champion Fendick, who also retained her doubles crown with Canada’s Jill Hetherington.
Pint-sized American Patty Fendick beat lanky Englishwoman Sara Gomer 6-3 7-6 for the $US12,000 singles purse, with the best of the four Kiwis, Seeman and Cordwell, both reaching the third round.
The $US50,000 tournament was played on hardcourt with a 64-player main draw. American Gretchen Magers delayed her honeymoon with a late decision to play and emerged with the singles title, defeating 22-ranked Terry Phelps 6-2 6-3. Kiwi Julie Richardson and American Anna Maria Fernandez recovered from a set down to defeat the top combination of Magers and Liz Minter 4-6 6-4 6-2 for the doubles crown. Nine New Zealanders featured in the singles main draw – Cordwell, Richardson, Tracey King, Amanda Tate, Liz Daly, Michelle Parun, Brenda Perry, Ruth Seeman and Claudine Toleafoa. Richardson made the third round before falling to doubles partner Fernandez in straight sets.
The first event was held on December 10-15, 1985, on grass, but was included as part of the 1986 WTA year. The main singles draw was a field of 16, Kiwi Belinda Cordwell the top seed. Unfortunately she lost the first round to qualifier Stephanie Faulkner. The event was won by fourth-seeded Briton Anne Hobbs, who beat Australian Louise Field 6-3 6-1. Hobbs also took the doubles title with American Candy Reynolds. Cordwell and Julie Richardson were doubles semifinalists.