Tennis

Miami Open locked into Key Biscayne for 2017, but long-term future murky

Novak Djokovic holds up his trophy as confetti rains down after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, to win the the Miami Open for sixth time on Sun., April 3, 2016 at Cradon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Novak Djokovic holds up his trophy as confetti rains down after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, to win the the Miami Open for sixth time on Sun., April 3, 2016 at Cradon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne, Florida. cjuste@miamiherald.com

As news broke Wednesday that the PGA is moving its 54-year-old golf tournament from Doral to Mexico City, tennis fans may have been wondering: Is the Miami Open next?

The prestigious tennis tournament on Key Biscayne, which draws more than 300,000 fans per year, is locked in for March 20-April 2, 2017, but the long-term future of the event is in question because an appeals court decision prevents the Miami Open from upgrading the complex at the Crandon Park Tennis Center.

Tournament officials say the $50 million upgrade — to be privately funded — is necessary to keep up with the swankier tournaments; and if the facility cannot be improved, the men’s and women’s tours and event owner IMG may eventually choose to relocate. South Florida has been home to the tournament since 1985, and changed names from Lipton to Ericsson to NASDAQ to Sony Ericsson to Miami Open.

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Orlando, South America and China have been mentioned as possible future venues. Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer toured the Miami Open grounds during the tournament this spring, and the U.S. Tennis Association is building a $60 million, 100-court training facility in the outskirts of Orlando.

A Miami-Dade County ballot item about the renovations passed with 73 percent of the vote. But the project is opposed by Bruce Matheson, whose family made a deal with the county for the land in the 1940s, and still has a say in how the land is used.

“We have seven years left on the lease with the county, and we are working hard preparing for another amazing event in 2017,” Miami Open director Adam Barrett said Wednesday. “It is very sad that this world class (PGA) event has left Miami and Miami will not have the top golfers coming to town annually to enjoy all Miami has to offer.”

Barrett said recently: “We will be here as long as we can continue to run a world-class event, but it’s about supply and demand, and we face obstacles that may be too big to overcome. Some of infrastructure is not keeping with other facilities, and every day we don’t do something other facilities are improving without the handcuffs we have.”

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Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, has won the title on Key Biscayne five of the past six years. Upon receiving his trophy this year, he told the crowd: “From some reliable sources I know the tournament will stay here for many years to come. I don't think we need to have a conversation about moving this tournament anywhere else.”

Eight-time winner Serena Williams wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the issue. She wrote: “Leaving Miami would be a blow to our sport, to the city of Miami, and to me. The tournament has, in many ways, set the standard for tennis events around the world in a unique time and place, and I hope we can all work together to improve this home court.”

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