Tennis legend John McEnroe has been signed up as the headline act in a new annual tournament that will bring the sport back to Zurich next year.This content was published on May 7, 2009 - 19:37
The former women's Zurich Open, which ended in 2008, has been remodelled to bring together under one roof veteran men's stars who have previously won grand slam titles and the next generation of young talent.
The BNP Paribas Zurich Open will kick off next March as a new member of the ATP Champions Tour with former "enfant terrible" McEnroe and another ex-world number one, Stefan Edberg from Sweden.
They will be joined by six other well-known former professionals, who will compete alongside a junior tournament at the Saalsporthalle venue in Zurich.
Veterans and under-18s will also rub shoulders in doubles matches during an event dubbed "where champions meet talent". The total prize money on offer is $750,000 (SFr847,000).
Zurich was the venue of a women's tennis tournament for 25 years until the event was moved to the United States this year. But the gap was plugged when the city was chosen as the venue for the popular Champions Tour.
René Stammbach, president of the Swiss tennis federation, believes the unique format of the tournament, combining age with youth, will prove popular.
"This formula will be the first of its type in the world and we are all very excited by it. The market in Zurich was built up for 25 years with the women's tournament so there is a good chance that this event will generate interest," he told swissinfo.
Stammbach said he was holding talks with other tennis greats to take part in the tournament, including Henri Leconte, Goran Ivanisevic and Thomas Muster.
The juniors will be drawn from the top three under-18s in the ATP rankings and four more from a qualification event between Switzerland, France, Italy and Russia that will take place this autumn. The final spot will be awarded to a wildcard entrant.
Jan Felgate, chief executive of the ATP Champions Tour, said the juniors would benefit from playing alongside such illustrious names.
"It's certainly inspiring for youngsters to play with some of the legends of the game – some of the greatest names in the sport," she told swissinfo.
Zurich to benefit
Felgate added that René Stammbach's record of organising tournaments was one of the key reasons that Zurich was added to the tour circuit.
"For a number of years we felt that we wanted to bring a champions event to Switzerland. We had a lot of applicants and we felt Zurich was a market that was right for the tour," she said.
Zurich city education and sport chief Gerold Lauber said surveys had shown tennis to be the third most popular sport among inhabitants behind football and athletics.
"It is very important for tennis fans and young people playing tennis in Zurich that the sport is back," he told swissinfo. "Combining young talent with famous veterans will invite young people to do even more sports."
Matthew Allen in Zurich, swissinfo.ch
BNP Paribas Zurich Open
The latest addition to the ATP Champions Tour will take place in Zurich from March 9-13, 2010. Veterans and youngsters will play in separate singles matches before combining to play doubles together.
Zurich joins Chengdu in China as a new venue for the tour that is staged in 12 venues around the world.
Participants of the tour are all aged over 30, have won at least one grand slam during their careers and have been retired from the professional circuit for at least two years.
John McEnroe, now 50, was one of the most colourful and controversial tennis stars during a career that ran from 1978 to 1992. During that time he won seven grand slam titles and was world number one for 170 weeks.
Stefan Edberg won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open each on two occasions. The Swede joined the Champions Tour last year after retiring from the professional game in 1996. He was world number one for a total of 72 weeks.
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