By Jane Voigt
March 21, 2018 — Butch Buchholz had a dream as he toured the United States in a station wagon with his fellow tennis players, years before the Open Era began in 1968. After Buchholz retired and headed up the ATP, he turned his dream into a reality.
Originally nicknamed “Winter Wimbledon” Buchholz and the Thomas J. Lipton Company agreed to form a tournament that would include both men and women and run for two weeks. Lipton would become the title sponsor. The first 5-year contract was signed in 1984. Prize money was $1.8 million.
The International Players Championships opened its doors the next year. Martina Navratilova and Tim Mayotte won the first singles’ titles, which aired on ABC. Attendance reached almost 126,000, breaking records held in Florida from any tennis or golf tournament. Two years later the tournament would find its current home: Crandon Park, Key Biscayne, Fla. In 1992, the name was changed to the Lipton Championships. Title sponsors evolved — Ericsson Open, NASDAQ-100 Open, Sony-Ericsson Open, Sony Open — until 2014 when Itau, the largest privately-held bank in Latin American, signed as the title sponsor and changed the tournament’s name to The Miami Open.
The name will live on, but players will no longer enjoy the palm-tree lined walkways and lush surrounds of Crandon Park and the sandy beaches nearby. Instead, the tournament will move to the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens for its 2019 edition. The goal for IMG, the owner’s of the event, was always to keep the tournament in Miami.
“I feel like Key Biscayne had some wonderful memories, especially for me, had some great times and so many iconic moments [have] happened there,” Serena Williams said after the ground-breaking ceremony two days ago in Miami Gardens. “Now I feel like it’s time to start new memories and new moments; and, I feel it’s going to be just as great.” Williams has won the title in south Florida 8 times and resides in the Miami Gardens.
“This has been a long, arduous journey of highs and lows, but the bottom line is that the Miami Open is staying in Miami,” Mark Shapiro, IMG president, told The Miami Herald. “We couldn’t be more excited about our new home.”
The ‘arduous journey’ Shapiro mentioned is better described as a long, drawn-out battle between the owner of the land where Crandon Park sits — the Mathesons family — the citizens of Key Biscayne/Miami Dade County, tournament management and IMG. Before the deal was finalized in December, 2017, IMG had pressed and planned to expand the area around the current site, which includes approximate 800 acres. Millions were spent on design teams and architectural renderings, yet the constituent holding the trump card, the Mathesons, wouldn’t budge in negotiations and killed the expansion.
Many fans will be pleased and many will complain about the relocation. One top complaint, though, was parking and accessing the site. From Miami, drivers had to cross the Rickenbacker Causeway after paying a toll. Traffic backed up at the booths before sessions, provoking long delays to enter a parking area situated on Virginia Key. From there general ticket-holders were bused to the entrance. Only media, players, tournament guests, box holders, and officials were allowed to park across the street from the main entrance.
Gone will be the parking headaches, with a doubling of general admission spots from 2,500 to 5,166. Overflow parking expands from 904 to 9,232.
“IMG and [the] Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will spend ‘upwards to $60 million’ to build a ‘full-time tennis, entertainment center,’” The Miami Herald noted.
The number of courts rises from 21 to 30, of which 29 are permanent. Practice courts rise to 18 from 9. Lights will be erected on 20 courts, not the meager six at Crandon Park. Fourteen thousand fans will sit inside the main center court stadium, which includes 50 suites. Players dining and gym space will triple in size. Of course the prerequisite video boards, hospitality villages, food concessions, plus music and art exhibits will be properly placed.
“The experience is what people are looking for. We have the land to do a lot of things, transportation and parking are easier, everyone wins,” Ross said. “We will landscape it so it will look like a Florida paradise, a five-star resort. The main thing is, we kept it in Miami.”
“I am thrilled the Miami Open is staying in Miami, where it belongs,” Serena Williams added. “It’s been a part of Miami’s culture for as long as I can remember. I’ve enjoyed some of my best career moments in Miami.”
Behind expectations and plans IMG has strived to reinvent this tournament, which had been known as the fifth Grand Slam. The distinction vanished after Larry Ellison, owner of the BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells, Calif., pumped $200 million into that event and elevated it to the forefront of combined men’s and women’s events.
“Players voted it Tournament of the Year six out of seven years,” The Miami Herald wrote. “The last time Miami won the award was 2008.”
“When we talk about where we want to get this sport, I think it’s a good thing,” Novak Djokovic told the CBS of Miami. “Obviously a lot of people are connected and kind of emotional about Key Biscayne. I’m one of them. I’ve had plenty of great memories and success in this tournament and good times on this island.” Djokovic won six times.
“It’s going to be a good change for all players,” Caroline Garcia of France said. “This venue is just not big enough for all the people who try to come here.”
Former tennis professional, James Black, became the tournament director this year and will continue in that position. The Miami Open runs from March 19 through April 1, 2018.