By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
Pencilled in for January 28 to February 3 at the True Arena Hua Hin, the Thailand Open will offer overall prize money of $250,000 and will be ranked as a WTA International event, the sixth and final rung of the WTA ladder after the Premier, Premier 5, Premier Mandatory, Year End Championships and Grand Slams in respective.
Thailand held the same WTA level event in Pattaya from 1991 to2015 before the rights were sold to other country due to the economic downturn and decline of tennis popularity in Thailand.
Former world No 19 Tamarine Tanasugarn and ex world No 9 Paradorn Srichaphan raised the profile of Thai tennis with their achievements on the global stage but since their retirement, the sport has been overshadowed by football, volleyball and badminton. The men’s ATP Thailand Open was also discontinued in 2013.
Without the two professional tennis events, Thai fans have only been able to catch a glimpse of world-class players in exhibitions mainly held in Hua Hin in a traditional year-end event.
But from now on, through the deal between former Deputy Prime Minister and tournament Advisory Chairman Suwat Liptapanlop and tournament’s rights holder APG, a truly competitive event is back again until 2023 under the terms of the new five-year contract.
“Thailand has not hosted any major professional tennis tournaments for a long time so it is with great pleasure that we announce this new tournament,” said Suwat. “ It is a wonderful opportunity for young Thai tennis players to compete against top players from around the globe and develop their skills at this tournament.”
His daughter and Executive Director of host venue, Proudputh Liptapanlop said: “We have renovated the centre court and have designed a new grandstand to increase the seating capacity to 2,500.”
Charles Hsiung, president of APG, a sport and event organisation said: ““APG is a leader and pioneer in the development of women’s tennis in the region so we felt it was important to have a WTA event back in South East Asia.”
In order to fully concentrate on the WTA event, a 125K WTA event (lower-level event) a US$125,000 Challenger and the annual exhibition are all cancelled this year.
The inaugural Thailand Open Hua Hin 2019, will be played on hard courts and is scheduled for week five of the WTA calendar. The winner will receive 280 WTA ranking points.