The “cool factor’’ still thrives at the Miami Open.
Tennis fans are still sipping champagne in fancy tents.
They’re still eating sushi, shopping for the latest fashions, celebrity-gazing and lounging on Adirondack chairs – toes sinking in 320 tons of sand while nearby fans play croquet.
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But more significantly, say tournament officials, they’re still watching the best tennis in the world – and will be for years to come.
Despite speculation that the Miami Open, now in its 33rd year, will leave Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Tennis Center because of legal limitations that prevent the tournament from expanding, tournament officials insist it’s here to stay.
Mark Shapiro, co-president of tournament owner WME/IMG, told The Miami Herald on Tuesday that despite other locations being intrigued with wooing the Miami Open from Key Biscayne, “we’re not open for business.’’
“Emphatically, we’re not moving the tournament to Orlando or anywhere outside of Miami,’’ Shapiro said on the second day of tournament qualifying.
Miamians last year lost the PGA’s 54-year-old Doral tournament to Mexico City, but it appears, at least for now, they won’t lose their crown jewel of tennis.
The tournament, which encompasses both the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) tours, runs through April 2 and expects the more than 300,000 spectators it has drawn in each of the years since 2010.
“This event is embraced by the community,’’ tournament director Adam Barrett said. Barrett said South Florida’s “diversity matches the global nature of the sport’’ and that “the fan energy’’ is unparalleled – not to mention the more than $386 million in economic impact, according to Miami-Dade County.
“And players love Miami,’’ Barrett said. “I was on a phone call the other day and we were talking about improvements that we make and some of the construction that has been done at other events, and one of the top agents in the sport – in multiple sports – said, ‘With all that, what the others can’t do is give people what Miami offers, which is the weather, the beaches, the restaurants and most importantly, the energy – the cool factor.’
“‘You can build buildings a mile high,’ he said, ‘but that doesn’t necessarily give you what Miami does.’’’
The immensely popular Roger Federer, this week coming off his fifth Paribas Open title in Indian Wells, California, after winning his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, enthusiastically agrees. Federer, who moved up four spots Monday to No. 6 in the world, has always savored playing in Miami and is back after pulling out last year with a stomach virus.
And after top-ranked Andy Murray and No. 2s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams recently pulled out with injuries, as well as last year’s women’s winner Victoria Azarenka staying home to care for her 3-month-old son, Federer’s presence will be an even greater asset.
“It started super young, my joy for the city,’’ Federer told The Herald. “I got a wild card in ’99 into the tournament after winning the Orange Bowl in ’98 and got to play on Key Biscayne on center court. I kept coming back.
“The crowds always came out in big numbers – they’re very emotional. … The energy you feel from the crowd makes it so much fun.’’
The Miami Open has seven years, including this one, remaining on its lease with Miami-Dade County. But its future has been in question since an appeals court decision in December 2015 prevented the tournament from a $50 million expansion upgrade because of restrictions related to the Matheson family’s 1940 donation of the property to the county.
Officials at the newly constructed USTA National Campus in Orlando have openly said Orlando would gladly take the Miami Open if the aging tournament wanted to move, ensuring that the event would stay in the United States. Shapiro said that’s no secret, but the tournament is staying put.
“The bottom line is, there are other suitors,’’ Shapiro said. “Ever since we lost the court case and rumors have been swirling about our intentions, we’ve had cities across the country and outside the U.S. borders that are interested in bringing such a glorious event to their shores. However, we’re not open for business. We’re committed to staying in Miami, our players love all that surrounds the tennis, from the culture to the beach to the music — just the overall flair.
“We want them to remain happy.”
Former women’s great Mary Joe Fernandez, who grew up in Miami, played in the tournament and will again cover it for ESPN, said she was thrilled that organizers have pledged to keep it from moving.
“The players do love it,’’ Fernandez said. “It’s still a fantastic atmosphere and beautiful setting. Miami set the bar for the rest of the tournaments years ago, and the crowds get so into it that you have that sense that you’re at a soccer match – especially when the South Americans or Spaniards are playing. You don’t get that anywhere else.
“Obviously you’ve seen what’s happening at other events, primarily Indian Wells,’’ she said of the opulent Paribas Open, bought in 2009 by billionaire Larry Ellison. “He’s invested so much money to make it probably the nicest tournament in the world, so pretty much no tournament can compare itself, because you’ll never win.’’
So, what happens when the Miami Open’s lease runs out in seven years?
“Let’s just concentrate on putting out the best product we can for the fans and residents of Miami,’’ Shapiro said, “and I know good things will happen.’’
Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.