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Making a racket

Organisers are promising hot tennis and cool tunes

Top stars and top tunes are being promised at the Swisscom Challenge tennis tournament in Zurich.

As well as attracting an impressive line-up of big sporting names, organisers have asked London's Ministry of Sound to set up a dance club inside the Kloten arena.

Free train travel for visitors from western Switzerland along with improved VIP lounges and the staging of the tournament's main draw in a shopping centre are among the other measures being taken in an effort to bring in new and younger fans.

"We are always looking to attract new spectators and we have to go along with their needs," insists tournament director Beat Ritschard. "The emphasis will always remain on the tennis, but we will do anything additional we can to enhance the experience of our visitors."

The traditionalists who prefer racquets to clubs need not be alarmed. This year's tournament, which gets underway on Sunday, certainly looks set to live up to its slogan with "the power of women's tennis" much in evidence.

Strong line-up

The list of players due to compete this time around is one of the strongest in years with no less than 16 of the world's top 20 women in action. Even without the two Williams sisters, following a late withdrawal by original headliner Serena, Ritschard believes the Zurich tournament can be considered as "a Swiss Grand Slam event."

"We made that claim based on the strength of this year's field," Ritschard explains, "and when you look at the line-up it's as strong as many of the proper Grand Slam tournaments."

But organisers of the event suffered a blow on Friday, when Swiss tennis star, Martina Hingis, announced she was pulling out of the tournament.

"I will not take part in any more tournaments this year," the 22-year-old former world number one said.

"I am not capable of reaching the level I expect of myself," she added.

Chasing points

The Zurich organisers aren't taking all the credit for this year's line-up, pointing out that many top players have come to Switzerland purely in the hunt for vital points to help them qualify for the year-ending Tour championships.

Many failed to make it to last year's events, including Hingis who was forced to pull out injured. And since the points won at Kloten this year replace those won 12 months ago, players who weren't involved in 2001 actually have more to gain.

Ironically, it seems the tournament's strong line-up for 2002 can be linked directly to the relatively weak field last time around.

Swiss hopes

Following the withdrawal of Hingis, Swiss hopes in the main draw of the tournament will rest on Basel star Patty Schnyder and the teenage talents Marie-Gaiané Mikaelian and Myriam Casanova. While Casanova is set to make her Kloten debut, Mikaelian will need no introduction to the crowd, having enjoyed a shock run to the quarter-finals last year.

Similar successes for the Swiss players this year could certainly help get the party going - both at the court-side and on the dance floor.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich


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