Tennis: ASB Classic poised for star-studded field as rules relaxed for COVID-19

Auckland's ASB Tennis Centre stands are empty, but Karl Budge has high hopes of delivering a festival of tennis like never before.

"We could deliver a showstopper here," he tells Newshub. "It could be unbelievable."

August is shaping as a crucial month for organisers of the ASB Classic tournament. 

High level discussions are looming and key decisions made that will have a major bearing on one of the country's premier annual sporting events.

But New Zealand's recovery and response to the COVID-19 crisis could bring some of the biggest names in the sport to Auckland. 

In a post-coronavirus tennis world where usual tour rules are out the window, Budge is plotting a tournament laden with stars and overflowing with top-10 talent.

"We could see many more than what we'd normally have," he says. "Potentially, the pick of the bunch."

Budge insists the feedback is "incredibly positive".

"I think we've got an amazing opportunity to do something very special.

"It's not an overly hard sell for people who want to come to New Zealand at the moment. I think there's a real desire.

"Appetite is through the roof."  

Key factors include how players can quarantine on arrival. 

Several options are being explored, including the Auckland tournament venue and luxury resorts around the country, including Cape Kidnappers in the Hawke's Bay. 

But hopes of hosting an unprecedented tournament hinge on one key point. 

"If we quarantine in New Zealand, do they have to quarantine again when they get to Australia?" wonders Budge. "If we can eradicate that and we only have to do one quarantine, we will fly."

The qualifying field could be trimmed to limit the number of players needing to quarantine and Budge may need to be flexible on dates, too. 

The ASB Classic is scheduled to begin on January 4, but the tournament could be played as early as December or even as late as February - after the Australian Open.

Hurdles need to be cleared, but Budge is confident. 

"We'll deliver an ASB Classic like we've never seen before... a re-imagined ASB Classic, if you will."