MIAMI GARDENS, FL — No one really wanted to move the Miami Open to a suburban NFL stadium and parking lot 18 miles north of the idyllic setting of Key Biscayne.
Not a tournament organizer, not a player, not a county official, not a longtime fan. They liked Key Biscayne’s location so much that it allowed traffic from downtown Miami to Rickenbacker across his causeway, and Crandon’s park was so cramped that players were forced to huddle on the stadium’s concourse. I was stretching and warming up.
Trekking through the crystal-clear waters of Biscayne Bay, a day at the old-fashioned grounds felt like a short vacation to Tennis Shangri-La. There was a coastal breeze blowing through the coconut palms and dense vegetation softening the South Florida humidity. For many, a tennis tournament, even something as important as the Miami Open, is less a sporting event than a novel way to experience the best the region has to offer. Desert mountain scenery in Indian Wells, California.
But Crandon Park needed an upgrade. IMG, the sports and entertainment conglomerate that owns the tournament, will invest approximately $50 million to renovate the main stadium, which can hold approximately 13,000 spectators, and build three new permanent stadiums with a combined capacity of over 10,000 seats. willing to spend, but local opposition arose. in the form of Bruce Matheson.
The Matheson family donated land in Crandon Park to Dade County in 1940 on the condition that it did not involve private enterprise. The 1992 arbitration allowed him one stadium, but he scored a line at three more, returning to court and winning, blocking expansion.
With little choice in South Florida, IMG signed Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to a deal. He agreed each March to set up a temporary tennis arena in one corner of Hard Rock Stadium, and build permanent grandstands and other his 20-plus courts in the parking lot. bottom.
It was the antithesis of Crandon Park’s charm, whose Bandbox Stadium felt like a tennis version of the beloved nightclub. Roger Federer wasn’t happy.
“Now, to be honest, it doesn’t feel good to be away from Key Biscayne,” he said in his final year of tournaments on the beach in 2018.
Five years later, Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas is still longing for the old district and adapting to the new set-up. Don’t look up.”
After losing to Karen Khachanov of Russia in the 16th round, Tsitsipas said, “It’s one of the few tournaments that can be described as soulless.”
Tsitsipas, who has never made it to the quarterfinals here, loves Miami as a tennis destination, but believes tennis tournaments should be held in places where players and fans connect with the history of the sport. “There will still be players who choose Key Biscayne,” he said.
Not everyone. World No. 1 and defending champion Carlos Alcaraz is a big fan of this new location.
“Tennis courts are always the same size,” Alcaraz said after defeating Tommy Paul in straight sets on Tuesday. “I feel great here.”
With expanded grounds and easier access to residents north and west of Miami, attendance reached 388,734 in 2019, 62,603 more than Key Biscayne’s record. This year’s competition is likely to break that record. Joshua Ripple, IMG’s senior vice president of tennis events, said the tournament would be more financially successful at the new location and provide players with well-equipped workplaces.
“It used to be about where we were going, how cool it was in town, and where me and my friends could go out to eat,” he said. He said he now needs lots of practice courts, lots of balls, good food on site, a big gym and decent transportation.
At Hard Rock, IMG could sell 50 lush corporate suites instead of 25 at Key Biscayne, a 75-acre footprint compared to 32 at Crandon Park, and a 100,000-square-foot pop-up retail store. Mark Shapiro, president of Endeavor, IMG’s parent company, called it a “day party,” minus the pool.
Former professional James Blake, who has been the tournament director since 2018, said he has had more opportunities to say yes to player requests. Private massage room. Private his suite for the top eight players and defending champions. Spacious recovery room. Cornhole and spikeballs, in addition to shaded seating for football field players and their entourage. There are also shower heads tall enough to accommodate NFL linemen and tall tennis players like Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev.
It fills my room tub long after the game rather than filling a bucket with water from a hotel ice machine. Or a player’s dining area that doesn’t have enough seats.
“There is room for growth here,” said Blake. “It felt like Armageddon if we had one more of him in Crandon Park.”
Yet Crandon Park still has its charm.
Late Wednesday morning, Jorge Fernandez, the father of U.S. Open finalist Layla Fernandez, took to the court of his favorite Crandon after a practice session with his other daughter, Bianca, who is also aiming to turn pro. I was loading my luggage into the car. The park is a world away from the action at Hard Rock Stadium.
When asked about the old and new tournament sites, he replied, “Incomparable.” “There’s a beach, there’s a golf course, and it’s close to downtown.”
Inside the old Crandon Park stadium where Federer and Rafael Nadal played their first match in 2004 (Rafa won), two middle-aged locals were playing. Federer and Nadal weren’t—and it didn’t matter in the slightest.