SA Open off ATP calendar
Johannesburg - A Sword of Damocles seemed to hang over the future of the South African Open at Montecasino on Sunday as the third successful version of the resurrected event approached a successful conclusion.
But while South African Tennis Association CEO and tournament director Ian Smith confirmed at a media conference the worst kept secret in tennis - namely that the ATP had already removed the South African Open in its present form from its tournament calendar - he reiterated SATA's resolve to keep the tournament alive at a later stage in 2012.
"We've got about eight months to persuade the ATP to find an alternative date," he said.
"They are sympathetic. But a great deal of bartering and bargaining will have to take place in the process."
Smith explained that a three-year lease to stage the SA Open as an ATP World Tour event had now expired - and in keeping with the resolve of the controlling body of men's world tennis to shorten their calendar, the South African Open had been one of the initial targets for removal.
Smith said the event at Montecasino was staged at one of the most eye-catching venues on the international ATP circuit for a tournament in the South African Open's category - and had made big impact on the players.
But it is a scenario that may now well conceal the illusionary expectations of a punter at the adjoining casino anticipating to hit the jackpot The Olympic Games in London will be taking a chunk of time from other sports itineraries next year and this is another reason the ATP have given to axe tournaments.
"But it does not mean there will not be a South African Open in 2012," insisted Smith.
"I will be holding discussions with the ATP within the next couple of months and hopefully we can come to an arrangement to keep the tournament alive."
Smith will venture into the ATP's lion's den in the coming weeks armed with much desire, moral and financial support from the South African government and the Lotto board and possibly other sympathetic sponsors.
"It won't be the end of the world if we don't have a South African Open in 2012 with ATP international status," insisted the SATA CEO
"We can always come back the following year, restructure and provide a better tournament than before."
However, the absence of a fully-fledged South African Open next year would not only be a major blow for the event itself, but would deal a telling body blow to the aspiring future of not only South African tennis, but the development of the sport in Africa as a whole.