The inaugural Brisbane International has been branded a resounding success, helping put Pat Rafter Arena at the front of the queue to host Australia’s next major Davis Cup tie.
Despite the early eliminations of the tournament’s five biggest drawcards, high attendance figures have ensured the joint ATP-WTA event will become a staple of the Australian summer of tennis for the long-term future.
More than 65,000 spectators attended the Brisbane International over eight days, well ahead of the initial target of 50,000, helping the tournament run at a profit.
After replacing the smaller men’s ATP event in Adelaide and women’s WTA event on the Gold Coast, which both ran at significant losses, the financial success is a huge endorsement of Tennis Australia’s combined Brisbane move.
Considering the world’s current economic crisis, tournament director Steve Ayles said the result laid a huge foundation for the event’s future as a season-opener, leading into the Sydney International and Australian Open.
The crowds, which took organisers by surprise on the opening day, forcing them to open gates earlier, also streamed in – even in the face of the stars bowing out early.
Three of the five leading crowd-pullers – Novak Djokovic, Marcos Baghdatis and Daniela Hantuchova – all crashed out in the first round, while the other two drawcards promoted on billboards – Ana Ivanovic and Jo Wilfried-Tsonga – fell in the quarter-finals.
“We (TA) plan to have it here for at least the next five years and to be honest I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t continue beyond that given this year and the support we’ve seen from everybody,” Ayles told AAP on Sunday. “I’m looking at this being a very long-term proposition.
“Royal Pines and Adelaide were both great little marquee events but this is truly a combined international event of some stature and everyone has loved it.
“The most important thing I’ve said was that Brisbane and Queensland embraces the event and they have, hugely, so we’re really very pleased with the outcome.”
An ATP spokesman backed Ayles’ comments, rating it a well-organised and professionally-run tournament which the players have enjoyed and commended.
“They’ve stepped up to the mark in running a combined men’s/women’s event,” he said.
One of the most praised factors has been the brand new Rafter Arena, a boutique, covered stadium which seats 5,500 spectators.
Ayles, who is also Tennis Australia’s manager of major events, rated it a perfect venue to host a Davis Cup or Fed Cup tie in the near future.
Australia’s 2009 Davis Cup campaign to move back into the World Group next year starts with a zonal qualifier in Thailand next month. An expected victory would see the team then either play India away or Taiwan at home.
Ayles said Queensland Tennis could lodge a bid to host the potential Taiwan clash in May but indicated it may be better off targeting a higher-stakes World Group play-off later in the year.
“This is a great location and I’d be surprised if there’s not one held here in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“It’s a great stadium so why wouldn’t you put a great event on.”
Rafter Arena has a plexicushion surface but has the capability of sporting any type of court surface, including grass.
Both men’s finalists Radek Stepanek and Fernado Verdasco spoke in glowing terms about the tournament after their thrilling three-set decider, and promised to return in 2010.
“For a new tournament, always the first time is the worst [so] if this year is the worst, I cannot imagine next year,” said the vanquished Verdasco.
“This tournament is in my heart and I would like to win it.”