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Serena Williams to finally play in NZ

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 27/09/2016

After four years of failed attempts, the ASB Classic has finally got its woman.

Superstar Serena Williams will play in the 2017 tennis tournament in Auckland after several near misses securing her signature.

The 35-year-old Williams, a winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles and 71 WTA titles, said she was looking forward to making her debut at the tournament.

"I have heard so many great things about the city and the tournament itself and I have always wanted to play there," Williams said.

"It can really set you up for a great run in Melbourne and I will be looking to start my year strongly."

Tournament director Karl Budge said the acquisition of Williams for the January tournament had almost brought him to tears.

Convincing Williams to change her plans was not a straight-forward process.

Budge said event organisers had pulled out every available stop to lure the star to Auckland, notably around training and preparation for the Australian Open.

The tournament was advantaged by its status as a single-week event, as well as its ability to focus exclusively on Williams' needs.

Williams lost this year's final in Melbourne to German Angelique Kerber and does not intend to repeat the trick in 2017.

"Every tournament starts with wanting to have Serena Williams at their events," Budge said.

"From that perspective, you've got a lot of competition and you've got to be creative."

Williams' sister, Venus, has played the last two tournaments in Auckland, winning the title in 2015.

However Budge was unsure if Venus would come to New Zealand in 2017.

"I hope so, but I don't know because they don't typically play together," Budge said.

"If there was any remote chance she wanted to come, we'd do everything we can to secure that because I think she deserves it."

Budge said attracting one of the biggest sporting stars on the planet would make next year's event the largest in the tournament's history.

More player signings for the January 2-7 tournament, which American world No.29 Sloane Stephens won in 2016, will be announced in the coming months.

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