Debrecen debacle done as tournament cancelled

After weeks of misinformation – or no information at all – for the players entered in the tournament-formerly-known-as-Budapest, WTA Debrecen is officially dead.

Tennis.Life has been told that the players were advised, individually and via their players-only web site Friday (Saturday in Australia) that the Hungarian Ladies’ Open will not be held in 2020.

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We also have learned that the following adjustments have been made to the tournament in Dubai, which is to be held the same week.

The qualifying draw will be expanded from 32 to 48. There will still be three rounds, but there will be six qualifiers instead of four.

Those 16 additional spots will be reserved for players who had been entered in Debrecen. Two spots will be added to the main draw in lieu of byes for the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds. The draw will go from 28 to 30 with the two extra qualifiers.

The original Dubai qualifying had a cutoff at No. 96, with Jasmine Paolini.

There doesn’t seem to be any word so far about what will happen to the doubles players, although the deadline for the doubles entry isn’t until Monday. So players could potentially switch. But with Dubai being a Premier, many of the lower-ranked ones also will be out of luck. 

At the moment, it’s only a 16-team draw.

Also – any Hungarian players who might have been line for wild cards in Debrecen are now, it would seem, out of luck.

Some of the players are trying to get the WTA to re-open the Dubai draw. Feels like that’s a longshot. 

WTA tourney move a little murky

The statement from the WTA, when it finally came on Saturday (Australia time), was weak:

“The WTA tournament to take place in Debrecen, Hungary the week of Feb. 17 will not be held due to unanticipated complications in securing the venue. We initially understood the facility to be available for a WTA event but learned last week that another event was booked for the same week, causing a scheduling conflict.

We have been diligently working to find a solution so that the tournament could continue. Unfortunately, that was not possible.”

As it was, the move from Budapest to Debrecen was fairly late in the game. 

Tough blow for Swiatek, Tomljanovic

The 16 spots that will be reserved for the players entered in Debrecen are players who would have had to qualify in Dubai anyway. So they could potentially gain something as the Dubai tournament is a Premier, which offers more points than the defunct International-level event in Hungary.

But they were already in the main draw in Hungary. And now, they will have to win three matches just to get a chance to earn anything of value.

These are not obscure players: the list includes Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina, Alizé Cornet, Alison Van Uytvanck, Daria Kasatkina, Ajla Tomljanovic, Laura Siegemund and others.

The 16th player on the list at the moment is Kateryna Kovlova of Ukraine, entered at No. 89 (although a few players ahead of her have entered the concurrent ITF tournament in Cairo).

That leaves the likes of Sara Sorribes Tormo, Arantxa Rus, Kristie Ahn, Paula Badosa and Camila Giorgi, all entered with rankings inside the top 100, on the bubble.

Swiatek is the defending junior Wimbledon champion. She's only four spots from getting into the singles on her own ranking.
Iga Swiatek is just one of many players who were in the main draw for the Debrecen tournament – and now find themselves having to win three qualifying matches, in Dubai, to play a main draw the week of Feb. 16.

Similarly, the WTA comment on this is … weak.

“As a result, we have increased the main and qualifying draws at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, providing THE MAJORITY of main draw players entered in Debrecen an ALTERNATIVE PLAYING OPPORTUNITY. There are also ITF playing opportunities that same week.”

(Yes, for which the deadline was … Jan. 30).

Two tournaments not held early in ’20

It has been apparent for awhile that the event was in some disarray. The announcement of the move from  Budapest (where the new-format Fed Cup finals will be held in April) to Debrecen, a city of about 200,000 people, was fairly late in the game.

The WTA website confirms that change. The Debrecen page is still up, as well. There is no news brief or any information at all about the situation, which is par for the course for the decidedly non-transparent WTA.

A fact sheet was prepared with the hotel and airport and per diem information, just as in all regular tour events, although with a few more “TBC”s than usual.

Debrecen

There is a $60,000 ITF tournament in Cairo, Egypt that week. That obviously is far less potentially lucrative both for ranking points and prize money.

But the deadline was Thursday. So some of the players who would have had to qualify in Debrecen and might have been left out in the cold – Gasparyan, Bogdan, Tsurenko, Bonaventure and Tsurenko among them) smartly entered just in case. And so at least they will be able to play.

As well, three of the Debrecen main-draw players who would be added to the qualifying list in Dubai (Flipkens, Kuzmova, Kozlova) have entered Cairo.

But that means that a lot of very good players who would normally, appropriately, be in the main draw of a $60,000 have been pushed down to the qualifying. 

That includes six top-150 players. The domino effect is real.

Yulia Putintseva won the final edition of the WTA tournament in Nürnberg, Germany in 2019. Not only will she not be able to defend her title in Cologne, where it was to relocate – she won’t be able to defend it at all as the event won’t be held in 2020.

Strasburg flies solo in 2020

The Debrecen tournament is not the only tournament in this early part of the season that has been cancelled – although the way it all shook out was a little bush league.

The Nürnberg clay-court event, held the week before the French Open, had its license sold. And the plan was that it would move to Cologne.

Well, it seems it will move to Cologne. It just won’t happen in 2020.

So there will only be one tournament (Strasburg) for the players to compete in the week before the second major of the season.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

The fact sheet the WTA puts out for every tournament was done up for the Debrecen tournament.

Tennis.Life got a look at it. And it very clearly states that the tournament will be played at the Főnix Csarnok hall, an 8,500-seat arena in Debrecen. 

There was only one problem – the WTA appears not to have confirmed this with … the venue.

When the venue management put out a comment to that effect, noting that the venue had bookings during that period, that’s when the news first started seeping out.

On Thursday, according to Nemzeti Sport, the venue managers issued a statement confirming they couldn’t accommodate the WTA.

The venue managers ask the WTA to “delete Debrecen from the website and inform the participants”, and put up a statement to that effect on the website on Jan. 26.

They addressed that statement … to the players themselves. 

At the same time, the coach of one player concerned told Tennis.Life just a few days ago that the players were told that the tournament WOULD be held, one way or another.

There was a possibility they could relocate it, again, to a city called Gyor.

This is obviously not going to happen.

Debrecen

Notably, the website for the Hungarian Ladies’ Open, which would have been in its fourth edition, was never activated.

Tournament management structure in flux

The ownership of the tournament itself is in a bit of a transition phase.

(Let’s see if we can get this straight).

The Hungarian Tennis Federation has been operating the (former Budapest) tournament since 2017. The actual lease is owned by a company called IMM, which is partly owned by … IMG.

That lease was due to expire this year, while the Hungarian federation was to begin holding another tournament, with its own lease. And so IMM was looking to rent out its lease to another concern, in another location.

There was also discussion last year about moving the July Bucharest clay event to Budapest because of the uncertainty of support from the Romanian government.

There also was discussion of transferring the Mallorca lease to Budapest for that same week. And that didn’t happen, either.

So Hungary has been a bit of a dog’s breakfast in terms of possibilities and discussions – not to mention that in the end, the Fed Cup decided to hold its big April finals there.

We have questions 

Will the WTA reimburse these players for either changing their flights to Dubai, or not using the plane tickets at all if they can’t get in?

These are not wealthy players who can just write it off.

As well, there was an official hotel listed: the Aquaticum Debrecen Thermal and Wellness Hotel. While the players wouldn’t be on the hook for hospitality, the hotel itself will have a mass cancellation of all the rooms.

And what about the players who would have been in the Debrecen qualifying but who are now scrambling, or out of luck completely?

Or the ones left playing a far smaller tournament on the ITF circuit as a backup plan?

Or the ones forced to win three qualifying rounds at a bigger tournament they didn’t enter because they preferred to be main draw at a smaller one?

Hopefully they will all get together, talk to each other, and take their case collectively to the WTA. With a lawyer.

According to Belgian Ysaline Bonaventure, they will get reimbursed. Sort of.

(By ‘staff’, she’s referring to coaches or physios – team members).

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