Kooyong considers changes amid Gulf competition

MELBOURNE Fri Jan 16, 2009 9:33am GMT

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The likes of John McEnroe and Maria Sharapova may soon join Roger Federer at the Kooyong Classic as organisers look to get the most out of the event and counter growing competition from tournaments in oil-rich Gulf states.

Tournament Director Colin Stubs, the architect of the traditional Australian Open eight-man invitational warm-up event, said Friday he was exploring all the options to maximise Kooyong's potential.

"I think about it every day," Stubs told Reuters at the event in leafy suburban Melbourne. "Look at this infrastructure. We only use it for four days," he added of the historic former site of the Australian Open.

"I have been toying with that for quite a while but this format has served us very well."

The Kooyong tournament has been staged since 1988 and has almost exclusively been a men's only event. In 1993, eight women were invited to play a tournament that ran concurrently with the men's event.

Another option would be to extend the length of the event, which is currently a progression-relegation tournament and guarantees players three matches under competitive conditions.

Stubs, however, said there was no thought to extending it to a full-blown tournament to join the ATP calendar as it would conflict with existing events in Sydney and Auckland.

The Kooyong field, which has traditionally attracted top-10 players like Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, has drawn just one top 10 player this year -- Federer.

Local media has suggested the reason why players like world number one Rafael Nadal, Roddick and Andy Murray had stayed away was because of tournaments in the Middle East becoming more attractive.

An exhibition event in Abu Dhabi was played ahead of the Doha Open in Qatar before Kooyong. Players then head back to the Gulf for a tournament in Dubai following the Australian Open.

DON'T PANIC

While Stubs said the threat of the oil-rich Gulf states could affect the quality of players available not only for Kooyong but the ATP's events in Auckland and Sydney, a conversation with newly elected player's council president Federer had assuaged his fears.

"I have spoken to Roger and he has an interesting view, which causes him to say 'don't be too worried about it,'" Stubs said. "He encouraged me not to panic or react too quickly."

Stubs said Federer had suggested the Abu Dhabi event was likely to attempt to move to a full-blown tournament, which may prompt the ATP to consider a single Middle East swing with three tournaments back to back before players moved to Australasia for their Australian Open buildup.

That could necessitate a move of dates for the Australian Open, Stubs said, though he was well aware of the commercial reasons why moving the year's first grand slam back could prevent such a switch.

"Every year there is talk of shifting the Open date but .... I also know there are strong arguments for not moving it.

"It's all about television contracts, businesses are back at work so it could affect the corporate attendance and schools are back. There are good reasons why it can't happen.

"Plus the big thing is, shifting the Australian Open is not easy because every tournament that follows it is locked into contracts with venues, sponsors and television companies.

"It will need a lot of notice, maybe three to five years, to do that."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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