tennis

Inside the ATP World Tour

Of farewells and transition journeys of players

By Chris Kermode, Special to Gulf News
13:37 April 12, 2018

There couldn’t have been a more fitting farewell to the Crandon Park venue of the Miami Open presented by Itaú than having American winners in both the singles and doubles events, as John Isner found his best form of the year to beat Alexander Zverev in the singles and the Bryan brothers Mike and Bob prevailed in the doubles.

After hosting the event so well for 32 years, the picturesque Crandon Park venue on Key Biscayne now gives way to a brand new and innovative venue at the Hard Rock Stadium, which also serves as the home to the Miami Dolphins NFL team.

We are particularly pleased that the tournament will remain in the city of Miami and the stunning facility will allow the Miami Open to make a much-needed expansion to meet the growing interest in this standout event. The new facility will feature a centre court within the massive stadium and no fewer than 30 show and practice courts outside, as well as more parking, more upgraded amenities and more space overall to make for much enhanced experience for both players and fans alike.

Overall the facility has undergone a $500 million (Dh1.84 billion) renovation under the leadership of Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and is uniquely capable of meeting the demands of expanding the prestigious event.

With new Tournament Director James Blake at the helm, the last edition of the Miami Open was a huge success with more than 300,000 spectators attending and culminating with the all-American winning weekend. Come March 2019, a new chapter will be written in the history of a great event.

Success also came earlier in March for the spectacular BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. More than 450,000 spectators attended the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to watch the world’s best players in action and cheer on eventual champion, the ever-popular Juan Martin del Potro, who captured his first career ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.

With Tommy Haas as Tournament Director, the tournament has gone from strength to strength and, together with the Miami Open, the event is a great showcase for tennis in the United States.

It is fitting that two of the highest profile tennis tournaments in North American have former players at the helm and it allows them to bring their vast experience to bear as the tournaments constantly improve and enhance player and fan experiences.

The ATP World Tour is fundamentally a partnership between players and tournaments, and the success of both Indian Wells and Miami is a testament to this partnership. It is great to see former players staying within the ATP structure and successfully transition from playing to promoting with all the benefits that brings.

It is now not an uncommon occurrence on the ATP World Tour to see players moving from competition to a tournament director role with many current Tournament Directors such as Richard Krajicek, Martin Jaite, Karim Alami, Hicham Arazi, Sebastien Grosjean, Alex Antonitsch and Patrick Kuhnen to name just a few who have made the transition very successfully.

While the older players are moving from competition to management, it’s the opposite for the future stars on the Tour. Many of last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals players have been successfully building their careers with some standout performances at recent events. The objective behind the creation of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan was precisely to provide the players with a platform and stepping stone for the main Tour, and after Year One in Milan, it is particularly pleasing to see this in effect.

2017 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung has followed up his stellar semi-final run at the Australian Open with four consecutive quarter-final results, two of them coming at the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami. Borna Coric made the semi-finals in Indian Wells and followed that up by reaching the quarter-finals in Miami. And let’s not forget 20-year-old Zverev who reached the final in Miami and continues to lead his generation from the front.

Meanwhile, Taylor Fritz had a great week in Indian Wells reaching the fourth round and the exciting Denis Shapovalov reached the fourth round in Miami, while Frances Tiafoe captured his first career title in Delray Beach, keeping these players in contention to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan at the end of the year.

The Tour now leaves the American hard-courts and heads into the clay court season and there is one name that is forever linked with that swing.

Rafael Nadal heads into the clay court season as the World No. 1 and with an amazing record of success behind him. Only four players in ATP history have won more career matches than the Spaniard, who is ranked behind Jimmy Connors (1,256 wins), Roger Federer (1,149), Ivan Lendl (1,068) and Guillermo Vilas (929).

As he heads into the season Nadal has compiled 879 wins and if he plays the clay like he did last year that number will climb substantially. Last year he completed a remarkable 10 — 10 — 10 winning achievement securing his 10th win in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and the French Open at Roland Garros.

This year, as he returns from an injury break, he will be hoping to add to that remarkable record and further write himself into the history of clay court tennis.

I would also like to mention one of Nadal’s compatriots, Feliciano Lopez — who will be playing his 17th successive event at the Mutua Madrid Open in May, making him the only player to have competed in all 17 editions of the great Spanish event.

It is significant therefore that next year he will return to the event, not as a player, but as the new Tournament Director. He will replace the legendary Manolo Santana, who has so successfully guided the tournament in his tenure in Madrid. Whether it be as a player or a mentor or an administrator, Santana has done it all in tennis and will always be remembered as one of the greats. He will not only celebrate his farewell year in Madrid this year but will also toast his 80th birthday in what should be another standout event in the Spanish capital.

— Chris Kermode is Executive Chairman and President of ATP and writes a special column for Gulf News.