Tennis: ASB Classic director Karl Budge to step down from Auckland tournament

ASB Classic director Karl Budge is about to step down from his role with New Zealand's premier tennis tournament after eight years.

Budge has overseen the event since 2012, building it into one of the best on the pro circuit and bringing some of the greatest athletes in the world to Auckland.

During his tenure, the Classic has hosted current or former world No.1 players like Ana Ivanovic, Venus and Serena Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki among the women.

Budge has also had a knack for spotting talent early and making his tournament a stepping stone towards greater things. Among those teenagers who passed through Auckland on their way to Grand Slam singles titles were Sofia Kenin (Australian Open 2020), Jelena Ostapenko (French Open 2017), Naomi Osaka (US Open 2018, 20, Australian Open 2019) and Bianca Andreescu (US Open 2019).   

"To start the year [2020] with Serena Williams winning the ASB Classic, joining sister Venus on our trophy, is something that, forever and a day, I'll be proud of," he told Newshub in January.

The WTA has also been recognised as the best of its size four times - 2014, 15, 16, 19 - during his stint in charge.

But COVID-19 has not been kind to Budge, whose Piha Pro surfing event was called off at the last minute, as New Zealand closed its borders to overseas visitors last March. Among those due to compete were surfing legend Kelly Slater.

"That was absolutely gut-wrenching," Budge told Newshub. "We had the 'King' here and the scene was set for a pretty epic week."

Continuing quarantine restrictions eventually saw the ASB Classic men's and women's tournaments both cancelled for 2021, no doubt pushing Budge towards a career crossroads.

He is expected to announce his resignation on Wednesday.