Venus Williams in action at the ASB Classic. Photo / Photosport
The prospect of Venus Williams playing in Auckland one more time is a perfect Christmas boost for ASB Classic organizers.
The popular American has been granted a wildcard into the 2023 women’s tournament, for her sixth appearance here.
At the time of the full field release almost two weeks ago, tournament director Nicolas Lamperin admitted that offering Williams a ticket into the main draw was a no-brainer, despite the fact she has barely played over the last two years (16 matches, with three wins), with her ranking ballooning to 1007 as a result.
“Who wouldn’t — you know?” said Lamperin at the time. “She’s one of the biggest names in the sport.”
Williams was also keen to visit Auckland again — after her previous success and fond memories of playing here — and the last domino fell on Tuesday, when the 42-year-old was given an Australian Open wildcard, as Melbourne is the cornerstone of any trip to this part of the world.
Under WTA rules, WIlliams can claim an ASB Classic wildcard as a former world No 1 or grand slam champion (she is both).
Whether she can make an impression in Auckland again is another matter, after spending so much time off the circuit and given the cut throat nature of tennis.
But that doesn’t really matter.
She remains one of the few female players that commands instant recognition among non-tennis fans and her presence will shift tickets and heighten media interest.
Sales have been strong across the fortnight, as the tournament returns after three years, but Williams will add some gravitas to the early sessions, typically the hardest to fill, with their proximity to the New Year holidays.
Williams hasn’t played since the 2022 US Open, after a 6-1 7-6 (5) first round loss to world no 43 Alison Van Uytvanck.
She lost her other three WTA matches in the past season, in Cincinnati, Washington and Toronto, though two of the defeats were to players ranked 14 and 21 respectively.
Williams seems determined for one more tennis chapter — whatever shape it might take — and has been in an intense training bloc since last October.
“She wants to play as long as possible,” said Lamperin. “She was out on the court the day after her US Open loss and she has been practicing ever since.”
Whether she should continue is arguable but there is no doubt about her legendary career achievements.
Williams has seven grand slam singles titles, including five Wimbledon crowns, but also reached nine other major finals, stopped by her sister Serena in seven of them.
The pair also combined for 14 grand slam doubles titles between 1999-2016, never losing a decider.
Overall she has chalked up 49 singles tournament wins from 83 finals.
Her longevity has been remarkable.
She has reached 13 WTA finals since the age of 30 (winning six) and made the 2017 Wimbledon final as a 37-year-old – getting to the Australian Open decider and the last four in New York in the same year.
Williams also helped to catapult the women’s ASB Classic to a new level.
She created a massive buzz on her first appearance in 2014, as fans instantly warmed to her open, friendly approach off the court and her powerful style on it.
And Williams lived up to the hype, reaching the final where she lost in three sets to Ana Ivanovic.
After she lifted the title a year later — beating Caroline Wozniacki in another star-studded decider — Williams admitted it was a big regret that she hadn’t been to Auckland earlier in her career.
Overall, she has a 12-4 win-loss record on the Stanley Street courts.
Two of the women’s ASB Classic wildcards have gone to 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and promising Czech teenager Brenda Fruhvirtova, while another has been allocated to the Kiwi who comes through the New Zealand playoff tournament, held next week in Auckland.
Venus Williams in Auckland
2019: quarter final
2017: Second round
2016: First round