Thu, May 24, 2012 - Page 20 News List

Promoter still sees potential in Agassi, Graf exhibition play

Staff Writer, with CNA

Ticket sales for an upcoming tennis exhibition in Taipei featuring legends Andre Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf, have been slow, the event’s promoter said on Tuesday, but added that it was hoping for a late surge in interest.

Organizers said that only about half of the seats available had been sold as of Tuesday morning, four days before the event, in which Agassi will play one-time foe Goran Ivanisevic and Graf will face off against Martina Hingis.

“We are looking forward to strong walk-up sales,” Integration Sports CEO Jeff Hsu said, expressing optimism because ticket sales have picked up significantly in the past few days.

Hsu said he expects 8,000 of the 12,000 tickets on sale at prices ranging from NT$800 to NT$10,000 to be sold by the time the exhibition, called the “Rise in Legends,” begins on Saturday afternoon.

Agassi will be in Taiwan for the second time in two years after playing in the first “Rise of Legends” in January last year against Russian great Marat Safin in both Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Described by many fans as “memorable,” the Taipei part of last year’s exhibition sold out 80 percent of the Taipei Arena and drew a television audience of more than 2 million viewers, Hsu said.

He was confident that Saturday’s exhibition, which is costing Integration Sports NT$45 million (US$1.52 million) to stage, would build on the goodwill from last year’s “Rise of Legends,” after which Agassi told cheering fans that “it’ll be my goal to talk to my wife to come [to Taiwan] with me next time.”

This time, he will have a new foil, the somewhat quirky, always entertaining, hard-serving Ivanisevic, who lost to Agassi in a memorable five-set final at Wimbledon in 1992, when the American took his first Grand Slam title. The Graf-Hingis match will bring back memories of Graf’s comeback victory over the Swiss star in the 1999 French Open final when Hingis imploded and was roundly booed by the French crowd.

Hingis, known as one of the game’s most cerebral female players, but who is also capable of putting her foot in her mouth, said of Graf in 1998, while the German was nursing an injury, that tennis “is a faster, more athletic game now than when she played. She is old now. Her time has passed.”

Philip Liu, secretary-general of the Chinese Taipei Tennis Association, said he was appreciative of the growing interest in tennis generated by exhibitions like these.

Currently preparing for a possible visit by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to Taiwan in September, Liu said hosting such events helps promoters build up know-how in hosting similar events. Two exhibition matches last fall (not organized by Integration Sports) featuring Maria Sharapova and Vera Zvonareva, followed by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, were far from profitable, Liu said, but he believed it was a matter of time before such events became popular.

“It’s impossible to make money on the first few exhibitions staged,” he said. “It takes time to test the market and make adjustments accordingly.”

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