Tennis-No extra places for Asians on tour, ATP offical says

BANGKOK, Oct 1 (Reuters) The ATP Tour will not increase its quota of Asian players in events held on the continent despite threats by Asia's tennis body to pull out of the tour and start its own rebel circuit, a tour official said.

Brad Drewett, a senior ATP official, said the global men's circuit would not bow to a demand by the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) that 25 per cent of the field in every event on the continent be comprised of Asian players.

''We have rules in place based on merit, and we have no plans to change them,'' Drewett told Reuters in an interview.

''We always give four wildcards. That system has served us very well for a long, long time. It's fair, it's an integrated system. It has some flexibility, but it will stay that way.'' The 2007 ATP top-flight calendar includes five events in Asia along with the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, where only the eight best players in the world are eligible to enter.

The ATF issued a statement last month saying it was ''seriously considering breaking away'' from the ATP tour unless eight spots were given to Asian players in every Asian event, even though South Korean Lee Hyung-taik is the only man from the region in the top 100.

The ATF also demanded that the continent's ATP Challenger events -- feeder tournaments where players can accumulate points to raise their ranking -- be closed off to non-Asians.

DEVELOPING ABILITY Drewett, a former Davis Cup player for Australia, said the standard of the men's tour was too high for most Asian players, who should get the chance to improve at smaller events rather than be exposed to the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal early on.

''We can give countries more wild cards for big events but their players will just get beaten very easily,'' he said.

''That's not good in terms of developing players' ability.

''In all sports -- soccer, rugby, swimming, athletics, golf -- there is a system of tiers, and no one can just jump to the big competitions.'' Drewett said the ATP would work closer with national federations to increase the number of ATP Futures and Challenger events, although he did not say whether they will be regionalised.

''We are big supporters of developing the game in Asia,'' he said. ''But we need to make these events grow, which will give young players the opportunity to develop their games.'' Chaiyapak Siriwat, vice president of the ATF, accused the ATP of neglecting Asian tennis by restricting the number of local participants.

''All the people in Asia look at the Australian Open as their grand slam, but we get only one wildcard,'' Chaiyapak told Reuters.

''What are they doing for Asian tennis? What kind of development is this? ''We have the money, we have a big population. If we make a pact, we can do it on our own.'' REUTERS BJR ND1402

Story first published: Wednesday, October 3, 2007, 16:49 [IST]
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