Home side OUE Singapore Slammers will be without their headline act when they open their campaign in the local stop of this year's International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) tonight at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
World No. 2 and 22-time Grand Slam singles winner Serena Williams is not making an appearance here after all, leaving the Slammers without their marquee player for their home leg.
The American was slated to play here when the IPTL announced its fixtures and player list less than a fortnight ago. It would have been her first competition since early September, after her loss in the US Open semi-finals.
IPTL founder and Indian doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi, who arrived in Singapore yesterday, said her absence should be attributed more to the organisers and not to the player. He also said it is a development in the last 48 hours.
He told The Straits Times: "We were trying to get it done and we've had some challenges financially.
"Serena has been supportive and she really wanted to come and play some matches before (the season starts in) Australia, but we couldn't get all the ducks lined up."
With Williams missing, the Singapore stop will now have to rely on the appeal of players like Tomas Berdych, Nick Kyrgios and former champions like Marat Safin and Carlos Moya to draw the crowds.
Former world No. 1 and fan favourite Ana Ivanovic, who tweeted that it felt "good to be back" in Singapore yesterday, will also feature.
The IPTL is a mixed-team tournament that uses an abbreviated tennis format. It is into its third season, albeit a scaled-down one after going through what organisers admit has been a challenging time.
Four teams are playing in three cities - Singapore is the second stop after Saitama and before Hyderabad - down from five teams in as many cities last year.
"It's been rough," said Bhupathi. "We've got some good tennis and we hope the format is something that will pull in the fans."
Ticket prices have also been slashed by 40 to 50 per cent.
Still, there is no doubt the absence of a star like Williams - who withdrew from the last two editions of the WTA Finals in Singapore - has left her fans disappointed.
James Leong, a 46-year-old media consultant, is reconsidering buying tickets to the event, now that Williams is no longer attending. He said: "I've attended every edition of the WTA Finals held here but missed her the last two times.
"She has nothing left to prove and I suspect she will call it quits soon. I was hoping to catch her one last time on my turf at this year's IPTL, so it's disappointing I won't be able to. She will be missed."
The Slammers will play the Japan Warriors at 8.30pm, after the 5pm UAE Royals-Indian Aces tie.
•IPTL tickets are available at Sports Hub Tix.