The Miami Open is being held on Key Biscayne for the final time during the next two weeks; and the new era of the tennis tournament officially began Monday with a lavish groundbreaking ceremony at Hard Rock Stadium, where the event will move in 2019 after 31 years at its tropical, if outdated home.
Miami Dolphins and stadium owner Stephen Ross, 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, WME-IMG co-president Mark Shapiro and newly-appointed tournament director James Blake were on hand with shovels in hand to promote the new facility.
“For many years, we at IMG tried to spend tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, to make it a better experience for media, fans, players, sponsors,” Shapiro said. “We did not want to leave Key Biscayne. Unfortunately, for reasons I still can’t get my arms around [a lengthy lawsuit over land use], we weren’t able to spend that money, weren’t able to make those improvements.
“So, in walked through the door my dear friend, Stephen Ross, a titan in the industry, a bold innovator, truly a big-vision guy and alongside him Tom Garfinkel, one of the best operators in all of sports. When you combine their team with our team at IMG, you get a new life, a new beginning for the Miami Open.”
General admission parking will increase from 2,500 to 5,166 spaces. On-site courts will increase from 21 to 30, and there will be 18 practice courts instead of nine. Twenty courts will be lighted (six are now), and the secondary Grandstand stadium will include a player lounge, locker rooms and a gym.
Center court will be inside the stadium, with 13,800 specially configured seats. Dining and lounge spaces will triple to 30,000-plus square feet, the gym space will triple, and locker rooms will nearly double in size. In addition to hospitality inside the stadium there will be a permanent food/entertainment court outside.
Ross said: “I grew up in Miami, kept roots here, and when I read about the possibility that the Miami Open would be moving, I contacted Mark and told him, `Hey, I’ve got a great place for you, plenty of land, something unique, he thought I was crazy. He said, `What do you mean? It’s a football stadium. How are you going to make a great place for tennis?’ I think we’re going to create a truly great venue.”
Adam Barrett, the event’s longtime director and current executive vice president, understands fans’ emotional ties to Key Biscayne, and realizes there are skeptics who feel the Open will lose its unique ambiance.
“Those same skeptics would have said why would you build a tennis tournament at a trash transfer station, or a dump,” he said. “We took a trash transfer station and built it to what it is today on Key Biscayne, and this is a lot easier because now we’re taking a high-end premium venue and leveraging all their amenities to grow and reinvent the tournament. I am very excited and optimistic for what the future brings.”
Williams has won eight titles on Key Biscayne and attended as a fan when she was a child. She reminisced about watching Gabriela Sabatini, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
She admitted that she, too “thought Steve was crazy” when he proposed the move. “When I heard they were going to move it, it literally broke my heart. It was devastating. But when I look at the photos now of how it’s going to be, I’m really excited. I am so happy this tournament is still going to be in Miami, and it’s still a place I can always call home.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Williams, back from maternity leave and entered as a wild card, plays her opening match against big-hitting Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old Haitian-American-Japanese player who just won the title at Indian Wells, California, and moved up to No. 22 in the world.
Blake lamented that rules didn’t allow Williams to keep her seeding points and get an easier draw. He said: “It’s great in one sense, we have an unbelievable blockbuster match for Wednesday, but one of them is going to be gone by Thursday. But anyone that’s going to count Serena out is doing so at their own peril.”
Added Barrett: “To open up your event on a Wednesday with a premium match starring the winner of Indian Wells and the greatest player of all time and follow that with former No. 1 [Viktoria Azarenka] playing another top American (Cici Bellis), this may be our best opening Wednesday in the history of the event. It’s a great way to kick off our last year on Key Biscayne.”