Destanee Aiava

Bendigo Tennis Centre will host its biggest tournament in January when an ATP Challenger event comes to town the week before the 2020 Australian Open.

The Weekly understands the finer points of the deal are still being discussed between Tennis Australia and Bendigo Tennis Centre, but this  is the first time Bendigo will host such an elite level of tennis, with ATP players likely to use the event as a warm-up for the Australian Open main draw, starting on January 20.

The event is held during the same week as Australian Open qualifying, which will see players ranked in the 100-200 range competing for a chance to feature in the year’s first Grand Slam.

The Bendigo Challenger will expect to attract players who have already qualified for the Australian Open, such as those ranked 50-100 in the world, or ranked outside the qualification draw at 200+.

As a result, the Bendigo Challenger will feature a mix of established ATP players, as well as young and emerging talent.

There are plans for a festival-like atmosphere during twilight and evening matches, with food trucks and live bands at the tennis centre.

A new 400-seat grandstand opened at the Bendigo Tennis Centre in March costing $994,700.

It was the final piece of a $6.2 million redevelopment that includes two function rooms, a new kiosk, pro shop and administrative area, and was pivotal in securing this new tournament.

The Australian summer of tennis is undergoing a revamp in 2020, with men’s events in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth replaced by the 24-team ATP Cup, a Davis Cup-like tournament featuring lucrative prize money and ATP ranking points.

In 2019, pre-Australian
Open ATP Challenger events included the Playford Challenger in South Australia and the Canberra Challenger.

Those events had a 48-man singles draw, with four players entering qualification, playing for up to $80,000 in prize money.

Typically, ATP Challenger tour events are contracted to run for at least three years.

Bendigo will continue to host an ITF women’s $60,000 event in late October, which was won by Australian Priscilla Hon in 2018.