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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Lobs Kremlin Cup Through Cash Crisis




A quiet word from Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was all it took.


The Kremlin Cup tennis tournament had lost the $1.5 million it had in Inkombank, sponsors were having to downsize their commitment because of the financial crisis and prize money looked like it would be cut.


But on opening day Monday, everything went smoothly. Fourth-seed Byron Black of Zimbabwe beat Martin Damm of the Czech Republic in the top game of the day, and the $1.1 million tournament now looks likely to make a profit by the time it finishes Sunday.


The sports-loving mayor and aspiring Russian president made a few calls and a series of new sponsors rolled in, including Bank of Moscow, Alfa Bank and Mosstroimekhanizatsia, said the director of the men's tournament, Eugene Scott.


"It's easier for me to do business [here] than in New York," said Scott, an American who has been helping organize the Kremlin Cup since it first began nine years ago. "If I wanted to meet the mayor it would take me six months. Here we have somebody who helps."


Luzhkov, who played a friendly game with Steffi Graf at a previous tournament, attended the women's final won by Mary Pierce two weeks ago and is likely to attend the semifinals and finals of the men's competition. Another tennis-loving politician, President Boris Yeltsin, also has an accreditation waiting for him if he feels well enough to attend.


The tournament could have eased its problems by cutting the prize money, but the Russian organizers would have none of it.


"I had considered asking the Russian party to petition the ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals] to reduce prize money, but word came back saying that they didn't want to send out signals of distress," Scott said.


"It's a very prideful response ... even if it's not good business sense," he said.


Behind the courts it's hard to see signs of belt-tightening. There's a buffet for 600 rubles - free in a special, even more exclusive area for friends of the sponsors - and stalls line the area offering items as varied as cable television, walrus tusk trinkets and Mercedes jeeps.


But Baltika beer, that economic barometer of Russians' declining purchasing power, is there for 10 rubles a half-liter. And some sponsors, Scott said, have stayed mostly out of loyalty, and at a reduced price.


"Our glory days were a couple of years ago when lobster and caviar was falling off the table. But it's fine ... that its not haute cuisine. And I think it's right," Scott said.


One firm is now paying $10,000 instead of $50,000 to be a sponsor, but with little hope of making that money back in sales.


Even the stalls offering space at plush Moscow tennis clubs are advertising reduced hourly rates, since their clientele has shrunk by as much as 30 percent. The new bargain deal is now $40 an hour, down from $45.


But reductions of up to 50 percent in ticket prices and the draw of hometown favorite Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Croatia's big-serving Goran Ivanisevic and Spaniard Alex Corretja make the organizers confident that the men's tournament will, like the women's, bring in a record crowd.


Spectators also have the chance to see Russian tennis' newest star, Marat Safin, 18. Already ranked No. 48 in the world, he will likely face Kafelnikov if both make the quarterfinals.


Kafelnikov, the former French Open champion, needs to reach the final of the Kremlin Cup to keep alive his hopes of reaching the end of season ATP World Championship in Hannover, Germany. Only eight players qualify for the $3.5 million event and British duo Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski are vying with Kafelnikov for the last two places. Henman and Rusedski play in Stockholm, Sweden, this week.


The Kremlin Cup runs until Sunday with play starting at 3 p.m. during the week and 1:30 p.m. on the weekend. TV Center will broadcast four hours of tournament matches every day.


Tickets are available from the stadium box office. For more information, check out the Kremlin Cup web site at http://www.kremlincup.ru.


Sonia Oxley contributed to this article.