By Jane Voigt
March 29, 2017 — In 2014 Miami Open’s Tournament Director Adam Barrett met with the press to layout the expansion plans for his tournament. ESPN tennis commentator and former touring pro, Mary Joe Fernandez, was on hand to field questions. Everyone was smiling. Then the horizon darkened.
The Matheson family, which gave the Crandon Park site to Key Biscayne in the 1940s in “exchange for a bridge [the Rickenbacker Causeway] connecting the key to the mainland,” wrote the The Miami Herald, has blocked all tournament development. The family wants to maintain strict control on the use of the 975 acres, denying a once vibrant event the life line it desperately needs to remain competitive in the tennis tournament world.
“‘When I first arrived here, it was always the biggest tournament after the Grand Slams,’” Tommy Haas told USA Today. Haas, who is retiring, played his last Miami Open a couple days ago and is the current tournament director at Indian Wells. “‘Unfortunately it just hasn’t been able to grow.’”
The 31-year-old Miami Open was labeled the fifth Grand Slam until Indian Wells bolstered its site after an influx of funds from new owner Larry Ellison. With no way out of its crowded location and no improvements to the infrastructure, the Miami Open fell behind its sister tournament in prestige and ability to promote.
Monday, however, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that he supported a proposal from the Miami Dolphins’ owner, Stephen Ross, that would re-locate the tournament 18 miles north, putting it adjacent to the football’s home, the Hard Rock Stadium. Ross does not want to buy the tournament, but like Miami’s mayor he wants to keep it in south Florida.
“‘My top priority is to keep the tennis tournament in Miami,’” the mayor said. “‘If it is in Key Biscayne, great. Right now, we are trying to unravel ourselves from the Matheson deal, which is unbelievably restrictive.’”
News of relocation has circled the globe, suggesting China and South America.
“‘The place is beautiful and it will be great if it can stay here,’” Nadal said, according to the same story from USA Today. “‘The most important thing that is the tournament stays in Miami. It is a city well-known all around the world. It’s important that we have our bigger tournament in important cities.’”
“The question is, is everybody happy this way or not?’’ Federer added. “‘If you want to go bigger, clearly you have to move. But is the grass always greener on the other side? I’m not sure. It’s a hard one.’”
A move to a complex next to The Hard Rock Stadium would eliminate problems of parking and easy access to the courts. As it stands, Crandon Park on Key Biscayne can be difficult to enter. People without VIP passes — players, corporate box holders, tournament staff, media — can park across from the main stadium. However the majority of ticket holders must park on Virginia Key and then take free buses to the entrance.
Traffic can back up on the streets leading to the toll booths at the Rickenbacker Causeway, as well, challenging fans’ patience and plans for timely arrivals.
With player, tournament and city sentiment strongly on the south Florida tennis band wagon, fighting to unclench the grip imposed by the Matheson family could result in some sunny, tropical outcomes. One thing is for certain, though. Donald Trump “would not be involved any future plans.” Trump had bid to “take over the waterfront Crandon Park Golf Course before becoming president.”
Mayor Gimenez was clear about Trump’s involvement. “‘That was an unsolicited proposal, was never our intention, and will not be our intention in the future. We will not give control to the President.’”