Bali tournament's show goes on despite withdrawals

Bruce Emond, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali

Wismilak International tournament director Kevin Livesey was not too concerned when he got news of the first player withdrawal from the main draw last week. It was to be expected; the tournament comes at the end of the grueling U.S. Open series, capped by the two-week Grand Slam event in New York City.

But the loss of Russian Elena Likhovtseva to a right ankle injury was quickly followed by Anna-Lena Groenefeld, the German world ranked 16 (shoulder injury) and American Jill Craybas (tendinitis).

It was time for an ""uh-oh"" moment.

Then Serb Jelena Jankovic hurt her back in reaching the U.S. Open semifinals, while Russian Vera Zvonareva had a more enjoyable extended stay in the Big Apple; she won the women's doubles with France's Natalie Dechy.

""Eventually I e-mailed back to the (WTA Tour) office to ask, `what's going on?'"" said Livesey, who also lost 7th seed Maria Elena Camerin of Italy and Selima Sfar of Tunisia, both to leg injuries, on the opening Monday of the event.

""You can understand the injuries to top players who are playing into the late rounds of tournaments, but some of these players usually lose early on. It was an interesting phenomenon.""

He calls the withdrawal of so many players from a main draw ""unprecedented"" in recent WTA Tour history, a dubious distinction considering the injury-plagued women's circuit.

Tournament organizers then switched into scramble mode, doing their best to ensure other players knew they were eligible to compete. Players are supposed to track online if they have gained entry, but the problem was that most did not consider they would at such a late date.

And those set for qualifying suddenly were gifted main draw spots, leaving gaps to fill in the qualifying competition. It was a logistics nightmare.

""I actually felt sorrier for the people in the office who had to deal with all the paperwork. There was no point in me getting upset with it; I just take what I'm given,"" Livesey said.

Then came the upsets of tour glamor girls Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic, seeded 5th and 4th respectively, within hours of each other Tuesday. The two crowd-pullers are featured in the new TV ad blitz by tour sponsor Sony Ericsson.

At the best of times, the six-year-old Bali tournament is in an unenviable position, coming right after the U.S. Open and because of the long travel involved to reach Indonesia. As a Tier III event, it offers just US$225,000 in prize money.

Livesey, along with his wife Annie George Livesey, who handles international PR, tries his best to make the tournament experience as attractive and comfortable as possible for players. As well as free hotel accommodation and a per diem travel allowance of $1,000 for each accepted entrant into the main draw, players receive the grand treatment in their trip to a tropical paradise.

There are a host of off-court activities, from a fashion show and dinner, a cooking class and spa treatments.

American Lindsay Davenport called it the best tournament experience of her career; Hantuchova bemoaned losing in such a beautiful setting.

""We use our promotions of the tournament to showcase Bali to the world, to show its beauty, especially after some of the security problems in recent years,"" Livesey said.

He also accentuates the positive about who did show up this year. Davenport, world number five Svetlana Kuznetsova, world number eight Patty Schnyder and new tour glamor girl Ana Ivanovic made the trip, a group of top 20 stars uncommon in all but the biggest tournaments these days.

Young Indonesian players also got the opportunity to play in a tour event because of the mass withdrawals. There were seven in the 12-player qualifying tournament, and five eventually played in the main draw (Lavinia Tananta and Vivien Silfany were lucky losers, players who lose in the final round of qualifying but get into the main draw due to withdrawals).

""One of the original ideas of this tournament was to give local kids a chance, so that was doing that with having so many in the qualifying,"" Livesey said.

A member of the WTA Tour Board of Directors and its Tournament Committee, he also knows that changes must be made in the calendar, the entry system and ensuring there are top players in tournaments. At the moment, there are too many tournaments and not enough big names to go around.

There are a few players -- he names Kim Clijsters, Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva and Schnyder among them -- who have been ""carrying the burden"" for the rest in fulfilling their tournament commitments. Eventually, something has got to give for them, too; both Clijsters and Petrova have suffered injuries.

Former world number one Davenport, who has been scathing in her criticism of the tour's demands on players, said Monday she believed its administrators would eventually make changes for the better. ""But then I've been saying the same thing for the past six years,"" the American told The Jakarta Post.

Livesey promised there would be ""serious changes"" to the tour's ""Roadmap"" for 2009/10 to ensure satisfaction for players, fans and sponsors. He noted that other tournaments also were hit by player withdrawals, most notably the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Japan and the Canadian Open, both the highest Tier 1 events offering $1.3 million in prize money.

It's Thursday, more than halfway through the tournament. The fans, mostly locals but also including expats, residents of Jakarta and a few visitors from Singapore and other neighboring countries, have come out, eager to see the action.

Livesey has dealt with all the upheaval of the past week, perhaps by keeping in mind what he told a distraught Hantuchova after her loss. ""That's life, that's tennis,"" he said.

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