By JIM MARTZ
My initial reaction when I heard that the Miami Open would move from Key Biscayne to Hard Rock Stadium in 2019 was: What? You can't play tennis in a cavernous stadium built for football, futbol and concerts. It's a gimmick. The tennis world will snicker.
Then I looked into the pluses and minuses and came up with 10 reasons why this will be a great move:
* Most important of all, this keeps the tournament in the Greater Miami area where it belongs. The event has outgrown the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne, and its hands are tied by local officials in attempts to make much needed improvements. Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, stepped forward and worked a deal with IMG to bring the tournament to home of the Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes.
* A tournament move to the highest bidder, perhaps Dubai, Hong Kong, or Singapore, would have left the United States with just two major men's and women's tournament: the U.S. Open and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, that precedes the Miami Open.
* A move to Orlando would have kept the tournament in Florida, which would be great, and the USTA probably would have sought to stage it at the USTA National Campus, the dazzling one-year-old, 100-court tennis complex near the Orlando Airport. But that site would have faced many of the problems hampering the current Miami Open site: thousands of people driving down a two-lane road through upscale communities that don't want them around.
* No more parking problems. The lots at Hard Rock Stadium already can accommodate crowds of 65,000. As anyone who has attended the Miami Open knows, parking can be a nightmare. And thousands of attendees have to park miles away and ride a bus to the site.
* No more traffic problems, with an asterisk. Unless you arrive very early or very late for matches on Key Biscayne, you will be stuck in bumper-to-bumper crawl getting onto the Rickenbacker Causeway and then for miles going to the site. I heard it took ATP star Dominic Theim an hour and a half to get from his Brickell hotel in downtown Miami to a match last year. Hard Rock Stadium is adjacent to Florida's Turnpike. Yes, there will be problems for drivers going north on I-95 to the Turnpike at rush hour. So go earlier if possible. Or take NW 27th Avenue. Maybe Metrorail if the extension to NW 27th is built.
* The new site will make it easier for tennis fans from Broward, Palm Beach and Martin Counties to attend, and for those coming across I-75 from Naples and Fort Myers. And it's just a three-hour trip from Orlando.
* ATP and WTA players will be very happy. The space for their fitness workouts, for the player lounge and for their meals will be triple what it is now. They currently eat in a tent. Plus the new Grandstand court will have its own fitness center and players lounge. At the current Grandstand court, if a player needs to take a restroom break during a match he or she has to ride in a golf cart across the site to the stadium. Or stand in line at a Port-O-Let.
* There will be 29 courts at the new site, nine more than at Crandon Park. All players will be able to practice on site; they won't have to trek down the road to the Ritz Carlton courts or wherever.
* The new tennis complex will be open to the public during non-tournament time, just as it is at Crandon Park Tennis Center.
* Yes, the tropical setting of Key Biscayne and that gorgeous view of Biscayne Bay, cruise ships and the Miami skyline will be gone. But the tournament won't be. And Stephen Ross does things first class. He will create a tropical setting and food court area that will be impressive. So are the skyboxes in Hard Rock Stadium. Ross has made several trips to Indian Wells to see what fellow billionaire Larry Ellison has done to that site, which many in the tennis world say has surpassed the Grand Slam venues. I suspect that billionaires like to one-up each other, so this Miami Open move could really be special.
By CAMERON MOFID
A top-ranked tennis professional, although alone on court, is supported by a variety of experts: at the very least, an ATP or WTA player usually travels with a tennis coach, a physiotherapist, and a fitness trainer. However, on championship Sunday of the 2018 Delray Beach Open, 64th world-ranked German Peter Gojowczyk was supported by a much more unpredictable team: I (who had just met Peter 10 days prior to that Sunday), along with an old friend of Peter's from 11 years prior and his friend's daughter were the ones accompanying him. In hindsight, perhaps the unforeseen makeup of his player's box that day was representative of his surprising run to the final that week.
As a tournament intern, I mainly worked in the credential office to ensure that staff, guests, and players received their official identification badges. The office maintained a hectic and lively vibe due to the volume of work. As mentioned, just one professional player could mean five or six additional credentials for his/her whole team.
This usually active environment made Peter's arrival all the more interesting, as he traveled to the tournament alone, just with his belongings and racquets. Surprised and inquisitive about his party of one, I offered to train with him the following afternoon and to my amazement we set up a 1p.m. court time for the next day.
Although I worried about not being high-level enough to meet his practice standards, I told myself to maintain a positive attitude and make as many balls in the court as possible. Peter was more than welcoming and found ways to make the training both efficient and enjoyable. We utilized practice strategies such as half-court controlled hitting, basket feeding, and serving/returning drills.
Before the tournament, I had the preconceived notion that the majority of top tennis professionals would be distant and not personable. And I didn't blame them. However, Peter's personality and approach to life completely reversed my prior stereotypes as he was extremely sociable and likeable. Before his first-round match, we had dinner in downtown Boca Raton and discussed a variety of topics: these included the challenges of constant travel, his passion for tennis, and his off-time activities.
Over the course of the next several days, one thing stood out to me most about Peter: he never let negative situations/results change his outlook on competition and he approached every match with the same humble mindset of competing to win. This persistent mentality has paid dividends in his career, as he has been quite injury prone and even had to retire in the third set of his second round match the preceding week in New York.
Peter retold the story of how he underwent surgery in 2014 (which sideline him for 6 months) and fought all the way back to a first ATP title in Metz last September, achieving a career high ranking of 61, all at the age of 28. On top of this were the personal situations that kept his coaching staff away for the week, but he remained undeterred and was solely ready for his on-court battles.
The only ATP singles player in the draw without a team, Peter took to the court on Tuesday morning against a fierce competitor in Slovak Lukas Lacko. After trailing a set and a break down due to Lukas' high level of play, Peter advanced in an exhausting three sets. As the only one in his player's box for his second-round encounter against 18th-ranked and big-serving John Isner, I was originally uncertain about Peter's chances due to Isner's often times overwhelming fire power. Over two and a half hours later, and 30 of Isner's blistering aces, Peter found himself in a third set down three match points at 5-6, 0-40. Following a touch high backhand volley that landed inches over the net, and some big serving of his own, Peter yet again advanced 7-6 (3); 6-7 (4); 7-6 (5).
Due to these big wins, Peter found himself in the media, where a childhood friend of his, Oto Patzner, discovered his presence in Florida. Oto worked at the Karlsfeld Club in Munich, where Peter trained when he was a junior. Years later, Peter began his journey on tour and Oto opened up a company in Florida to fulfill his American Dream. Oto asked his daughter, Nina, to contact Peter, knowing it was a long-shot. After finding a way to reach him, Oto connected with Peter for the first time in over 11 years.
For Peter's third round match he faced one more big server and Next Gen player Reilly Opelka. While Peter's box was made up of myself, Oto, and Nina, three people he most certainly would not have expected to see at the beginning of the week, there was more energy coming out of our side of the court than I had ever seen in a player's box before. Oto would chant "Go Peter, Go!" seemingly after every point, combined with an extended period of resounding applause. Perhaps it was this encouragement that provided Peter with the extra push to win the match.
Peter was now set to play Stevie Johnson, another top American and fan-favorite, in the semifinals. After producing a noteworthy performance, Peter came out on the winning end with to reach his second tour level final. A week that had began on his own, with a lingering foot injury, had transformed to one of the best weeks of his career. Peter was also subject to praise by fellow players, as Johnson graciously said, "He's really come out strong this year. He won't be ranked 60 or whatever he is for much longer."
German legend Boris Becker also congratulated Peter by way of a tweet, "#PeterGojowczyk sagenhaft (amazing)!!!"
While the energy from our side was yet again electric the following day, Peter lost the final to a rising American in Frances Tiafoe. Whether it was Oto and Nina's 5-hour round trip drives every day to support Peter, or simply a sensational click in his game, Peter cherished this week as one of the best in his professional journey. Following the week in Delray Beach, Peter ascended the rankings to world number 51, the highest he has ever reached. In describing the phenomena that was his miraculous week, Peter explained, "absolutely anything can happen. It's tennis."
Famously quoted by iconic movie character Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates" I have found that tennis, in a more microscopic outlook, is too like a box of chocolates. As Peter expressed to me: life on tour is composed of sporadic times, made up of the often unpredictable good and bad weeks. Fittingly, as Forrest so explained about his beloved chocolates, "You never know what you're going to get."
Cameron Mofid competes on the ITF Junior Tour, training out of Academia Sanchez-Casal in Naples, Florida. Cameron is a contributing writer on his experiences traveling the world for the sport he loves and aspires to one day pursue a career working in tennis.
By ADAM ROSS
May 2003 Tennis magazine signed by James Blake. Photo courtesy of the Adam Ross Collection.
James Blake has been named the tournament director for the 2018 Miami Open - the last Miami Open scheduled to be played at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne before the tournament moves to its new venue, Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens.
Blake was a high- ranked American tennis player and is one of the great ambassadors of the game. His career highlights include: 10 ATP titles; a career high ATP number 4 ranking; 2 Hopman Cup titles for the United States; he was also a key contributor for the United States 2007 Davis Cup championship team and in 2008 he reached the semifinals of the Beijing Olympics.
Blake is currently an analyst for the Tennis Channel and plays on the ATP Champions Tour. He is also the author of two books, "Breaking Back", which detailed his return to the ATP Tour after a serious injury and the death of his father, and "Ways of Grace" which addresses the ways in which sports can bring people of diverse backgrounds together. Blake's charitable work includes the creation of the James Blake Foundation, which focuses on quickly and efficiently turning lab discoveries into better treatments for patients. He also established the Thomas Blake, Sr. Memorial Research Fund, named after his father, to support cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Adam Ross is a volunteer for USTA Florida and is Vice President of the TGA/Tennis Collectors of America. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By EMILIO SANCHEZ
CEO and Founder at Academia Sánchez-Casal, Florida
Interview with Ramkumar Ramanathan, ATP world No. 135 and ASC player:
Ramkumar Ramanathan is one to watch at the Miami Open 2018. The Indian player jumped 143 spots last year in the singles ranking and is now ranked world No. 135. Also worth mentioning is his victory over world No. 6 Dominic Thiem at the Antalya Open in June 2017 (where he reached the quarterfinals), his first main draw qualification of a Masters 1000 tournament at Cincinnati Masters in August 2017, or his role as a No. 1 player at the India Davis Cup Team. However, the 23-year-old player is now facing one of his long-time aspired career goals: to compete in the Miami Open.
Ramkumar was first sent to Academia Sánchez-Casal Barcelona by the president of the Chennai Tennis Federation at the age of 14 from his hometown Chennai, India. He stayed at the academy 4 months then returned to India to play and win the U18 Nationals, at 15. Soon after, Ram started gaining confidence and playing better so ASC took a gamble and offered him a scholarship. He played all Futures, competed 35-40 weeks and in between tournaments trained at the academy.
Last year he called me at ASC Florida. He had been playing professionally for the last 2-3 years but couldn't reach the 200-ranking barrier. He asked me if we could help him accomplish his goals: reach the top 150 of the ATP ranking by the end 2017. We accepted the challenge and he's been training here since.
I recently interviewed him while he was preparing for the Miami Open.
ES: How was your debut as a junior player at ASC?
RR: I started playing tennis when I was 7 and at 14 the Chennai Tennis Federation brought me to ASC Barcelona. It was an incredible opportunity but also a big challenge to be outside of my home and my country at a very early age. In Europe everything was different; the culture, the food Eventually I came back to ASC Barcelona every year and it became my second home.
ES: You know that our 360 ASC System focuses on the 4 Pillars of tennis. Which is the most important one for you?
RR: Although physical is important, I think the mental pillar is crucial. During the last years I've learned so much about staying present in every match, fighting every point. Mental strength makes the difference; it also goes together with confidence.
ES: What are your goals for this year?
RR: When I came last year to ASC Florida, I wanted to get in the top 150, and I made it. This year, I would like to reach the top 100 by the end of the year.
ES: You've been playing at the Common Wealth Games, Cincinnati Open, Indian Wells If you had to choose to do well in one of these tournaments, which one would you take?
RR: To do well in Miami Open.
Apart from the Grand Slams the Miami Open is considered one of the biggest events in the tour. Since last year I couldn't compete there, it became one of my main goals for 2018.
ES: What does it mean to you to represent your country in the Davis Cup?
RR: To play for your country, to listen to the national anthem, it's something very special. I like to play with the crowd; they push you to give your best until the end of the match.
ES: RED (Respect, Effort and Discipline) is part of the ASC identity. What do these values mean to you?
RR: Tennis teaches you many things that will help you in your tennis career. Sacrifice, focus, stay present, stay away from your cell phone Simple things that then you can apply to your personal life.
We wish him the best of luck and lots of success in his upcoming endeavor.