The IMG (International Management Group) fought tooth and nail to keep and grow the Miami Open in its historic location of Key Biscayne, but in the end they had to concede defeat. Over five years of legal battles, court cases and committee meetings to spend the $50m needed to update the aging Crandon Park venue, build a permanent Grandstand and some other service facilities, they have not managed to curb the determination (coupled with very deep pockets) of Bruce Matheson, the descendant of the Matheson family who owned the island of Key Biscayne until the 1930s, before it was handed over to the County of Miami-Dade in exchange for the construction of the Rickenbacker Causeway. The Mathesons were able to include in the agreement a commitment to maintain Crandon Park a naturalistic oasis, preventing any invasive construction. In 1992 Matheson reluctantly agreed to build the current Stadium on the site, but managed to install a 4-person committee (in which he essentially controlled two votes) in charge of approving any further development. “Our purpose was to invest in Crandon Park and give it back to the people of the Miami-Dade County, so that they can enjoy the beauty of that place – says Adam Barrett, Executive Vice President of IMG Sport and of the Miami Open – This has not been possible, and it’s now the County’s duty to fix this problem, it’s out of our hands now”.
The IMG, the international sports management behemoth that has owned the rights to the Miami Open since 2000, has decided to follow “a vision” in cooperation with Mr. Stephen Ross, real estate mogul and owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team. “One day Mr. Ross got in touch with our CEO Mark Shapiro and presented the idea to move the Miami Open to the Hard Rock Stadium – says Barrett while he is leading the press delegation in a tour of the new venue – building a temporary center court on the pitch. We thought it was a crazy idea, we agreed to listen to him just out of courtesy, but the more he was explaining his vision, the more enticing it became”. This move to Miami North, where the Miami Dolphins stadium is located, about 30 mins from Downtown Miami (when traffic is clear on the I-95, i.e. hardly ever) is intended to be a rebirth for the Miami Open, making this very prestigious tournament into a unique event, able to compete with the best in the world (Indian Wells and Shanghai in particular) in terms of players facilities and spectators experience.
The project aims at creating a synergy between the tennis tournament and all the other event hosted at the Hard Rock Stadium (the Superbowl will be staged there in 2020) allowing the Miami Open to use the existing facilities inside the stadium and to build a permanent tennis center outside the stadium (thanks to the investment dollars committed by the IMG and the Miami-Dade County) open year-round.
It will be a gargantuan leap forward for the Miami Open in terms of player facilities: the dining area will treble in size to reach 2800 square meters; there will be two gyms, one indoor and one outdoor; the locker rooms will be 70% bigger and the players’ lounge will treble as well and will be over 3000 square meters. “There will be 900 dedicated parking spots for players and their guests, all of them on the North Side of the stadium, which will be entirely dedicated to them – explains Barrett – that area is normally used by VIP customers during the Dolphins games and is also served by a ‘black lane’, a reserved lane connecting the freeway junction to the entrance”.
Traffic has always been a sore note for Crandon Park: its location on the island of Key Biscayne forces all people and goods to use the only available road, the Rickenbacker Causeway, which becomes clogged with cars and vans throughout the tournament. General parking is on a different island altogether, Virginia Key, forcing spectators to shuttle back and forth via courtesy buses, which means a 30-40 minute trip from the car to the gate. “This will all disappear once we move to the Hard Rock Stadium – triumphantly states Barrett – here were have 8000 parking spots around the stadium, 3000 of which dedicated to premium customers, and further 9000 spots in the overflow parking, all of them reachable without crossing roads or needing buses”.
Center Court will be built inside the Hard Rock Stadium, using the existing South stands (entirely reserved for premium customers, club seats, mini suites and corporate suites) and using modular stands for the remaining seats. The modular structures will not be entirely dismantled at the end of every tournament but will be disassembled into modules and stored inside the stadium ready for the following year. “We will start building the center court every year as soon as the NFL season is over for the Miami Doplhins, which means at ‘worst’ after the AFC Championship Game, the third week of January – says Barrett jokingly, as he is a lifetime Dolphins supporter and that ‘worst’ scenario would be very welcome to him – During 2020 it will be particularly challenging, since we will host the Superbowl on February 2nd and we will only have six weeks to prepare everything. We won’t have a lot of leeway, but we believe we can do it”.
The new Center Court will have a capacity of around 13,800 seats, roughly the same as Crandon Park’s Stadium Court, while the new permanent Grandstand (which will boast its own players’ lounge, locker room and gym) will be able to seat 5,000 spectators and the new Court 1 and Court 2 will have a capacity of 3,000 and 1,500 seats respectively. The total daily capacity of the venue will increase by about 30% (from 25,000 to over 32,000 people) and there will be 29 permanent courts, 20 of which will be floodlit. The “heart” of the venue will be the Plaza, very similar to the Plaza in front of the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, with a fountain and a giant screen (40 by 90 feet) on one side of the stadium, and a smaller one on the side of Grandstand.
The IMG seems to be intentioned to bring the Miami Open back to the past splendor, when it was considered the “fifth Slam”, singles draws had 128 players and men used to play best of five sets from the first round. The facilities will undoubtedly be world-class, but the location remains a question mark: all official hotels for players and staff will remain in Downtown Miami and Coconut Grove, roughly 20 miles away to be driven on one of the most congested freeways in the United States, the Interstate 95. Shuttles and transportation cars will be able to use express lanes (costing anything between 25 cents and 6-7 dollars or more depending on traffic) allowing to avoid hold-ups and queues. The overwhelming impression is that IMG is mainly concerned about the experience of premium customers, players and staff, with the rest of the patrons representing a somewhat lower priority. “We believe the possibility that are open to us in this venue are endless – explains Barrett – we will be able to create new price points, to attract new fans with new experiences”, adding that the intention is to tap also into the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County catchment area. Which is quite funny, considering that the Miami-Dade County is providing a $2m subsidy to this event under an existing agreement between the County and the Miami Dolphins ownership aiming at keeping a world-class event like the Miami Open (and the $387m it generates annually, according to a study commissioned by the IMG) within the territory of Miami-Dade.
It will be necessary to wait for the completion of the next edition (if not more than one) of the tournament to fully evaluate the effects of this move and how much the distance to downtown Miami will affect patronage. In the meantime we can just admire the suggestive artist renditions of the new grounds, hoping that giant screen, fountains and convenient parking lot will balance the loss of Key Biscayne’s palms, beach and turquoise sea.
Simona Halep ‘Happy To Be Back’ Amid Uncertainty Over US Open Plans
The Romanian still has reservations about her future plans after taking her first international flight in five months.
World No.2 Simona Halep admits the prospect of travelling from Europe to America will be ‘mentally tough’ as she ponders whether or not to play at the US Open.
The reigning Wimbledon champion is set to return to competitive tennis in the Czech Republic where she will play her first tournament in five months at the Prague Open. Halep was originally due to make her return in Palermo but withdrew from the event due to ‘travelling anxiety’ despite being assured she wouldn’t have to go through quarantine. Speculation has mounted in recent weeks about if the Romanian would travel to the US Open later this year with the 28-year-old confirming she will make her final decision after Prague.
“I haven’t made the final decision yet,” AFP quoted Halep as telling reporters during a virtual press conference on Sunday.
“The travelling from Europe is a little bit tough with changing flights — we don’t have straight flights — so it’s going to be tough for me personally, mentally,” she told a video conference.
“I don’t want to put myself into that stress. As I said I haven’t decided yet, but the conditions are tough for me at this moment.”
Three members of the top 10 on the women’s Tour have already pulled out of the New York major, which will be played behind closed doors for the first time in history. Ash Barty, Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitolina have all withdrawn from the major due to concerns. In comparison, only one member of the top 10 on the men’s Tour, Rafael Nadal, has withdrawn specifically related to COVID-19 concerns.
Prague is Halep’s first international trip after being in lockdown in Romania since February. A country which reported 1,378 new coronavirus cases and 50 new related deaths on Friday in what was their highest 24-hour figure since the pandemic began.
“I’m a bit nervous but things are very controlled here and very safe so I feel safe,” she said upon arrival in the Czech capital.
“I’m happy to be back, I’m happy to be healthy.”
It will be double duty for Halep in Prague. Besides being the top seed in the singles draw, she will also be playing the doubles alongside local favourite Barbora Strycova. Who reached the semi-final of Wimbledon last year before losing to Serena Williams. It is the first time ever the two are playing alongside each other on the Tour.
“I’m sure we will have fun. I’m sure that she will understand if I miss easy balls at the net, and I hope we’ll enjoy it.” Halep commented on their collaboration.
Halep will start her singles campaign against Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.
REPORT: Madrid Open To Be Axed Amid COVID-19 Concerns In Latest Setback For Tennis
Hopes of Spain holding their top tennis event in 2020 are over.
The world of tennis is set to suffer another severe blow with multiple media sources confirming that organisers of Spain’s most prestigious tennis tournament will officially cancel their event on Tuesday.
The Mutua Madrid Open will be removed from the 2020 calendar following a meeting involving tournament owner Iron Tiriac. Recently doubts have been cast on the event after local health officials called for it to be suspended due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Although the final decision was up to Tiriac and his team. It had been due to take place between September 12 to 20, following the conclusion of the US Open.
“We have to be realistic now, we have to accept that health is always the priority. We must not endanger anyone, neither the fans, nor the players, nor the staff, all those who come to Madrid in September,” tournament director Feliciano Lopez told L’Equipe over the weekend.
Spain has seen their rate of COVID-19 cases rapidly rise since the country ended its lockdown. According to El Pais, the number of cases recorded within 24 hours is eight times the amount compared to 40 days ago. Rising from 334 (June 20) to 2,789 (between July 29 and 30). On Friday July 31st there were 3092 new cases in the country in what is a post-lockdown record.
Held at the Caja Magica, the Madrid Open is a key event for both men and women. It is currently classed as a Masters 1000 for the men and as a Premier Mandatory for the women. Last year each of the singles champions took home €1,202,520 in prize money. It was originally set to be played in May but was postponed due to the pandemic.
The demise of Madrid this year is another setback for what is becoming a rapidly thinning 2020 tennis calendar. Within the past two weeks China has confirmed that they will not be hosting any tournaments this year, Japan’s scrapped it’s premier women’s event and the Italian Open has been advised to not allow any fans to their event this year.
As a result of the latest development, only two WTA clay-court events will take place after the US Open leading up to Roland Garros. They are both set to get underway on September 21st in Rome and Strasbourg. As for the men, Rome will be their only point of call.
Serena Williams leads a high-quality line-up in Lexington
Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams will be the top seed at the inaugural edition of the Lexington Open from 10th August 2020 on the same week as the Prague Open. The Lexington Open will be the first US tournament of the US hard court season, which will continue with the Western and Southern Open and the US Open, which will be held in the same venue at Flushing Meadows in New York.
Serena was very close to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, but lost four times in a Major final after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
The US legend will play her first match since she hepled the US team beat Latvia in the Fed Cup last March in Everett. There Serena beat Jelena Ostapenko but she was defeated by Anastasija Sevastova.
Williams will lead a star-studded line-up, which features this year’s Australian Open finalist and former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka, Sloane Stephens, Johanna Konta, Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva, Ons Jabeur, Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson and US rising star Cori Gauff.
Sabalenka won two consecutive editions of the Wuhan tournament in 2018 and 2019, in Shenzhen in 2019, the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai in 2019 and the Doha final in 2020.
Stephens won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2017 and reached the final at 2018 Roland Garros. She finished runner-up to Elina Svitolina at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore. The US player lost to Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez in Monterrey in her last WTA Tour match before the pandemic.
Amanda Anisimova won her maiden WTA title in Bogotà in 2019 in her first professional tour tournament on clay. Last year the young US player beat Simona Halep en route to becoming the youngest semifinalist at the French Open since 2006. This year Amanda lost to Serena Williams in the semifinal in Auckland last January.
Johanna Konta reached the French Open semifinal and the Rome Final in 2019. The British player enjoyed her best year in 2017, when she won the Miami title and reached the Wimbledon semifinal rising to her best ranking at world number 4.
The Top seed Open will be the first WTA tournament to be played in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States. The Kentucky tournament will feature a 32-player singles draw and a 16-player doubles field.
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