You dont have to be rich to enjoy the Sony Open tennis tournament, which began Monday and ends March 31, at the Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne.
About $10 million in prize money attracts some of the best tennis players in the world. That means players like Serena and Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Maria Sharapova will be mingling with the wealthy superstars and globetrotters who follow them.
While some will spend $5,000 per person for packages that include parking, dinner and a behind-the-scenes tour, others are finding ways to get similar perks for free.
As volunteers for the tournament, we get to see tennis while we work and we get to see it from some very good vantage points, said Rick Sant, 37, a 15-year volunteer. You could be next to Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic. Its really amazing when you are standing five or ten feet away from the worlds number one player.
Some of the celebrities that volunteers run into include Enrique Iglesias, Shakira and Paulina Rubio. Although it is the best way for tennis lovers on a budget to enjoy the tournament, it is not the only way. Sacrificing proximity to save money still gets you a social media check-in. And those who like to try their luck, can try to win free tickets at one of the tournament sponsors parties in Coconut Grove and Brickell.
Wanda Hewitt, a 15-year-volunteer at the tournament, is a retired Howard Drive Elementary school teacher from Little River. This year she will be working nine shifts of about four hours each checking patrons tickets. She said she learns something new about the sport every year.
Its all worth it. Its exciting just to see the power behind their powerful swing and the enthusiasm of the fans, Hewitt said. Even if you are outside and you cant see inside, you can hear the crowd roaring when the match is going on.
Tournament Volunteer Manager Diane Thompson said that aside from being close to celebrities and tennis stars, volunteers get other perks such as entrance credentials, access to the main stadium in certain rows, 10 guest tickets, a free parking pass, two T-shirts, a jacket, a hat, a $5 Starbucks gift certificate, a discount at the Miami Seaquarium, and a bag of Lindt Lindor chocolate truffles.
Thompson, who has been volunteering for 28 years, said some volunteers receive training to retrieve balls and hand out towels during matches which you have to be in good shape for and others get to drive players and VIPs back and forth to the hotels. They are not allowed to ask for autographs.
There are also jobs as ushers, ticket checkers, greeters, and at the lost-and-found desk. The competitive application process began in November and closed Thursday. This year, about 200 aspiring volunteers did not make the cut, but 800 did.
For those who dont have the time to volunteer, there are some helpful pricing rules. Paola Bustamante, 32, said she has been going since she moved to Key Biscayne from Venezuela five years ago.
It can be really expensive and I remember I couldnt believe they didnt have discounts for students, Bustamante said. Eventually I found ways around it. I took protein bars and water in my purse so I wouldnt end up spending money on food and watched some of the action from the screens outside.