Tennis: ASB Classic breathes sigh of relief as big names avoid first-round clashes

ASB Classic tournament director Nicolas Lamperin can breathe a sigh of relief, as the major names have avoided any first-round match-ups when play begins on Monday.

With the tournament draw finalised on New Year's Day, top seed Coco Gauff will face Germany's Tatjana Maria, while second seed Sloane Stephens will face an as-of-yet undecided qualifier.

As an unseeded player at this year's Auckland tournament, 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu will face Czech Republic's Linda Fruhvirtova in the first round.

ASB Classic tournament director Nicolas Lamperin.
ASB Classic tournament director Nicolas Lamperin. Photo credit: Photosport

Third seed Laylah Fernandez has been drawn to face wildcard Brenda Fruhvirtova.

As it stands, the draw would allow for a Raducanu v Gough and Stephens v Fernandez semi-final pairing, should all four players win their respective matches.

"If [Raducanu] had drawn Coco Gauff in the first round, it would have been an unbelievable match on Tuesday," Lamperin said.

"There's nothing we can do about the draw, we'll just take whatever it presents to us.

"It's probably one of the highlights of the first round. Two different players following a different trajectory at the moment."

Kiwi wildcard Erin Routliffe will also face a qualifier on the Stephens-Fernandez side of the draw, although former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard has withdrawn through illness to end her hopes of reaching the main draw.

The start of play on Monday will see tennis return to Kiwi shores for the first time since 2020, as the challenges of COVID-19 meant a three-year hiatus for the tournament.

And for Lamperin, about to oversee his first ASB Classic as tournament director, the excitement is felt at all levels.

"We're all very excited," he continued. "We've had very little time to get ready - six months when you'd normally have 12 months.

"But everything's on track. [There's] a few final touches here and there, but I think we'll be ready by tomorrow when the first ball is hit at 3pm.

"We can really feel it by the number of ticket requests we're getting. Three years has been way too long.

"We're delighted to be bringing that feeling back to the fans in Auckland. I'm just hoping for some good weather in the next few years, and then I'm sure we'll have a very successful event."

But despite the hype of this year's tournament, Lamperin asserts he's in for the long haul.

The coming weeks will only serve as the breaking of ground for the tournament under Lamperin, and the Frenchman is confident the ASB Classic is only getting started under his watch.

"For me, 2023 is year one, we just want to make sure we deliver a top event," he added.

"We want to show all the stakeholders that the model still works - there's been a lot of challenges for the organisation over the last three years.

"Based on what we're hoping to achieve this year, we can start planning for the future."