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.