Tennis

After 30 years, the Miami Open has a new home. Here’s everything you need to know

First day of the 2019 Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium

First day of the 2019 Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium after 30 years on Key Biscayne, March 18, 2019.
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First day of the 2019 Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium after 30 years on Key Biscayne, March 18, 2019.

The drive to the Miami Open during the next two weeks won’t be as picturesque as it has been for the past 30 years.

Instead of cruising along the Rickenbacker Causeway with turquoise water, bobbing boats, and the Miami skyline in the distance on the way to Key Biscayne, tennis fans will navigate through the concrete and billboards of I-95 and the Turnpike to get to the event’s new home at Hard Rock Stadium.

But once fans arrive at the site, organizers hope, even skeptics who opposed the move will be pleasantly surprised at the $70 million transformation of the football venue into a state-of-the-art tennis facility inside and outside the building.

The cozy, familiar, but aging Crandon Park site, which could be only marginally upgraded since 1987 due to legal battles, has been replaced by 29 permanent courts — 11 competition courts, 18 practice courts — and an entertainment plaza that includes a multi-tiered “Spanish Steps” area with a stylish rooftop Kiki on the River pop-up and a Stella Artois beer garden.

There is also a “Grove” area with live music and dining options such as Novecento and Chi Fa. “Old Miami” features food trucks. And the “West Lawn” features Bourbon Steak, Casa Tua Cucina, Bluestone Lane Café, Kim Crawford wine bar, Moet Chandon champagne garden, Sushi Maki and SuViche.

Fans who worried there would be no greenery will be pleased to see purple bougainvillea popping everywhere and “The Paseo” landscaped paths lined with 50 Canary Island Date Palms, 40 fig trees, 25 Bonsai trees, 50-year-old ficus trees, 20 olive trees shipped from California, and 100 other varieties of palm trees.

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Practice courts at Hard Rock Stadium at the 2019 Miami Open in Miami Gardens, Florida, Monday, March, 18, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Looking for art and colorful backdrops for social media photos? The Miami Open has you covered. Art Open Miami will feature an on-site modern art gallery. Wynwood Walls-inspired murals decorate the sides of the 5,191-seat Grandstand stadium, a permanent structure that houses a player lounge, locker room and gym, amenities which the Grandstand at Crandon did not have. Sprinkled throughout the grounds are tennis-themed photo-opp spots for the InstaGram and SnapChat generation.

Court 1 seats 3,000 fans, Court 2 seats 1,500, and the 18 practice courts include 4,300 seats.

The centerpiece court of the tournament is the 14,000-seat Stadium Court, a temporary structure built inside the stadium, between the 30-yard lines of the football field. It is designed to feel intimate, and uses some of the building’s permanent seats, along with the luxurious Dolphins’ 72 Club, The Nine suites, Cabana Suites and Courtside Living Room Boxes, with cushy recliner chairs and all-inclusive food and beverage packages.

“We’re going to offer luxury amenities unprecedented in tennis, and that’s really exciting,” Blake said.

So far, ticket sales are up 20 percent with increases in orders from Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Organizers hope to match or exceed the 2018 attendance of 300,000 over the event, which runs through March 31.

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Agustina and Alfredo Robledo have fun with the tennis ball sculpture outside Hard Rock Stadium at the 2019 Miami Open in Miami Gardens, Florida, Monday, March, 18, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

“There was some skepticism, understandable, because people couldn’t envision tennis in a football stadium and they saw a parking lot out there last year,’’ said Miami Open tournament director James Blake, a former Top 10 player. “To know that now there are now five different neighborhoods out there, cool spaces like the East Terrace, West Lawn, Casa Tua, champagne gardens, Kim Crawford wine, Kiki on the River, so many spots, they made it into a place where you can go without even thinking about tennis.

“I honestly think there will be people who go out there and never go into the stadium. They’ll hang out, have some drinks, grab a great meal, listen to live music, check out the art, and go home.”

Players have been practicing at the site for about a week, and the tournament’s qualifying rounds began Monday. So far, Blake said the players seem happy with the expanded facilities.

The player dining space increased from 9,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet. The gym went from 3,000 square feet to 10,000, locker rooms from 10,000 square feet to 17,000 and lounge space tripled to 34,000 square feet.

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Sawyer Cowden 13, hits a ball at one of the fan booths at Hard Rock Stadium at the 2019 Miami Open in Miami Gardens, Florida, Monday, March, 18, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

“The teams around players have gotten so much bigger with coaches, trainers, physical therapists, stringers, spouses, kids, so having this much extra space makes it so everybody can be comfortable and have their own little areas,” Blake said.

One extra player perk at Hard Rock: The top eight-ranked men and women and all former tournament champions get private suites.

“It’s tough to get top players excited, but they seem very excited about having their own suites,” Blake said. “I haven’t heard any players have any major complaints — of course there’s little things, but they seem happy with the courts, the parking, the extra space, all the amenities and the ability to make it bigger and better. I haven’t heard any of the skeptics say I told you so yet.”

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, tournament owner IMG, architect Rossetti and Moss Construction collaborated on the project. Word is Ross was particularly involved in the selection of plants and flowers.

Blake admitted he was among those who couldn’t envision how the event would look at Hard Rock after so many years at Key Biscayne.

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The center fountain at Hard Rock Stadium at the 2019 Miami Open in Miami Gardens, Florida, Monday, March, 18, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

“I try to know my strengths and weaknesses and one of my weaknesses is that kind of vision,” he said. “I’ve been on the property of two personal houses where we’ve started ground up and I did not see anything. My wife and architect were like, ‘this is going to be here, this is going to look amazing,’ so I’ve learned to trust others. When IMG and Stephen Ross said they’re going to make this happen and they showed me the renderings, I didn’t see it at all. But I learned to trust people that know what they’re doing. I was very pleasantly surprised it could be built that quickly. It is unrecognizable from six months ago.”

Of course, as with any new facility, Blake expects some glitches.

“We’re going to have a lot of people around to help fans and players because it’s the first time, people were used to Crandon Park, they had it down, had their routes down and now a player’s going to get lost going from locker room to the lounge,” he said. “By the second or third day they’ll figure it out. We want input from fans and players. The customers are always right. We have no restrictions, Sky’s the limit.”

2019 Miami Open

When: March 18-31

Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens

Main Court: Inside stadium 14,000 seats, including 72 Club, the Nine and Cabana luxury suites.

Grandstand Court: Outside, 5,191 seats. 12 outdoor tournament courts. 18 practice courts (with 4,000 total seats)

Defending Champions: Singles — Sloane Stephens, John Isner. Doubles — Mike/Bob Bryan, CoCo Vandeweigh/Ashleigh Barty

Total Prize Money: $8,359,455

T.V.: ESPN, Tennis Channel

Tickets: Available at MiamiOpen.com and through Ticketmaster

Parking: On-site. Some reserved, the rest General Parking.

Bag Policy: Small hand-sized purses/pouches and clear plastic totes (no larger than 12 x 6 inches) and 1 gallon freezer/storage bags are allowed. Miami Open branded approved bags on sale at stadium store.

Players to Watch:

WOMEN

Naomi Osaka: World No. 1 lives in Boca Raton, is of Japanese-Haitian heritage and won the last two Grand Slam events — 2019 Australian Open, 2018 U.S. Open.

Serena Williams: Her ranking has dropped to No. 10, but the 23-time Grand Slam champion has won the Miami Open eight times, is part-owner of the Miami Dolphins and eager to have a good showing at Hard Rock Stadium.

Angelique Kerber: Moved up to No. 5 in the world after reaching final at BNP Paribas Open.

Bianca Andreescu: 18-year-old Canadian on Sunday became youngest winner at BNP Paribas Open since Serena Williams in 1997. Also, first wild card to win the tournament.

Sloane Stephens: Defending Miami Open champion has South Florida roots, will be a crowd favorite.

MEN

Roger Federer: The 37-year-old 20-time Grand Slam champion and three-time Miami Open winner is coming off a loss to Dominic Thiem Sunday in the final at the BNP Paribas Open.

Novak Djokovic: Ranked No. 1 in the world, defending champion of Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Has won the Miami Open six times (tied with Andre Agassi for the record). Lost his opening match at Indian Wells two weeks ago.

Dominic Thiem: Austrian 25-year-old rising star moved up to No. 4 in the world Sunday after beating Federer in the final of the BNP Paribas Open.

Milos Raonic: The 6-5 Canadian reached the Indian Wells semis, where he lost a close match to Thiem.

John Isner: Defending Miami Open champion has a big serve and is always a threat on hard courts.

After 31 years, the Miami Open said goodbye to Key Biscayne in 2018. But Hard Rock Stadium seems to be ready to host the world-class tennis tournament in 2019.

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Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, and has been the University of Miami basketball beat writer for 20 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.
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