The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, April 2, 2019
What women's tennis needs — Ash Barty's takeover — Miami Open recap — an interview with the Volvo Car Open tournament director
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Where are all the women’s-only tournaments?
One things is clear three months into the tennis calendar: The future of women’s tennis is in the hands of many talented, capable stars, and we will all be spoiled with entertaining matches and drama and personalities to spare for years to come.
Last week, it was Ashleigh Barty’s turn to have a big breakthrough. The 22-year-old Australian became the 14th WTA winner in 14 weeks this season — a record, as you might guess — when she defeated No. 5 Karolina Pliskova 7-6(1), 6-3 in the Miami Open final. This was the biggest singles win of Barty’s career by far, and catapulted her into the Top 10 for the first time.
She has the power, the speed and the net game — thank you, doubles! — to be a force to reckon with for years to come.
So, while there might be some cries for more consistency at the top of the game, that’s not at all my concern for the WTA right now. My worry is making sure that women’s tennis by itself continues to get the proper investment, so that high-quality tournaments with great prize money can continue to be held in all corners of the globe.
Recently, there’s been an exodus of women’s-only tennis tournaments from the United States. The Connecticut Open in New Haven, a staple on the calendar in the week before the U.S. Open, closed doors in February. The tournament had been without a title sponsor since 2010. The Carlsbad WTA tournament left for China back in 2014. It’s just been sad to see marvelous events that were so important to the Tour struggle to survive.
Which is why I wanted to take a look behind the scenes at what makes a successful women’s tennis tournament. It’s fitting that this week is the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina, the largest women’s-only tennis tournament in North America. For this Tennis Tuesday interview, I spoke with the tournament director, who peeled back the curtain and showed what it takes to make a tennis tournament a sustainable success. I hope that you will find it as informative as I did.
Now, on to the links!
This week in tennis
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On Equal Pay Day, the WTA looks back at evolution of prize money in tennis.
Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka won the doubles title at the Miami Open, completing what is known as the Sunshine Double.
Christopher Clarey on Barty’s big fortnight.
And here’s Steve Tignor over at Tennis.com on Barty.
If you don’t know much about Barty’s cricket-playing past, Michelle Kaufman at the Miami Herald has you covered.
The WTA Insider Podcast interview with Barty is great.
Also via WTA Insider, Caroline Wozniacki is practicing with Francesca Schiavone?!!
Love this Tennis Channel interview with Sabalenka.
Julia Goerges on her “second career.”
Courtney Nguyen catches up with the lovely Kiki Bertens, the defending champion in Charleston.
THE CITI OPEN WILL STAY IN DC. Sorry for the caps, but as someone who lives in the district, this is phenomenal news.
Get to now the new Volvo Car Open tournament director, Ben Navarro, via the Charleston Post Courier.
Shelby Rogers’ comeback in Charleston — her hometown — is a tear-jerker.
Also, watch this post-match interview with Shelby and her adorable niece. ARE YOU CRYING YET???
Here’s the full Volvo Car Open singles draw. Sloane Stephens is the top seed, Kiki Bertens is the second seed, and Sabalenka is the third.
There’s also a hard-court tournament happening in Monterrey right now, featuring Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza. Here’s that draw.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Volvo Car Open Tournament Director Bob Moran
The Volvo Car Open in Charleston is the best tennis event I’ve ever been to. I made it down about 4 years in a row, during what I like to call the Jelena Jankovic years, and every single year that I’m unable to return I become more and more bitter about my life choices.
Tournament Director Bob Moran — who has been with the event for 19 years — was kind enough to answer a few questions on Monday morning about the changes he’s seen, the keys to their success, and the bright future ahead.
GIBBS: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the tournament during your 19 years working for it, and 10 years as tournament director?
MORAN: I’d say No. 1 is the media side, both from a domestic television side and the international television side. Domestically, we made a change a couple of years ago to Tennis Channel, where every match that we have on the stadium and club courts is produced for Tennis Channel, and we go live coverage from first ball to last ball. So we used to be seven hours of live coverage, and now we’re up to 60 plus hours of live coverage, which is a major undertaking in its own right. And then our international coverage is continuing to grow. I believe we have 152 countries that are partners that take our broadcasts for every match, and we send it overseas — we have probably close to 20 million viewers overseas as well. So that’s one that’s changed pretty dramatically.
I’d say No. 2, from a player perspective, 10, 11 years ago, players traveled with themselves and maybe one other person, be it a coach, or a hitting partner. And I’d say that it’s changed to where players are traveling with multi-person teams, perhaps coaches, hitting partners, physical therapists, in some cases, nutritionists.
And then, you know, everything we pay attention to from a fan experience is tenfold. Where it was, how do we put the best tennis out there? Now it’s not only how we can put the best tennis out there, but also the best fan experience that we can, from mobile apps to fan experiences outside the lines. So I’d say it’s really transformed on those three fronts for us, from, say five years ago to today.
GIBBS: So many people look at tournaments and just think of the work that goes in that one week of the year. What does your year-round experience look like?
MORAN: As soon as it’s over, you know, it takes us about a good month and a half to build out the site, and then it’ll take us 1-2 weeks to tear it all down. And then we’ll all sit down and go through all the goods, the bads, and where we want to start making some changes. And then we have to start wrapping up with our sponsors and making sure that that we delivered everything we could and start renewing those sponsorships. And now you’re getting into, you know, June, July, and I travel overseas for Wimbledon. And that’s the first step of our recruiting process for next year’s field.
And then we will put tickets up for the next year over the summer. And that’s when our marketing plan starts, in June.
GIBBS: You’re not a mandatory event. And you’re in an interesting place in the calendar right, after the American hard-court swing, right as people are to Europe for clay. But you always have such an incredible playing field. How do you get players to keep coming back? What’s the secret?
MORAN: I think it’s a combination. We make it personal. Like I said, we travel to Wimbledon, we keep up with the players year round. I personally sit on the Tournament Council for the WTA and the WTA Charity Board. So I have to travel a lot for meetings, and any opportunity I have to sit down and engage with players,I do. Eleanor Adams, who works for me, is the tournament manager, and that’s her number one priority. You know, she keeps up with the players year round. If it’s a birthday, anything, we want to make sure they know that we’re here and we care.
Their experience on site is really important to us. If they have a great time here, they’ll be back. And that’s not just what the tennis court feels like, but that’s how the food is delivered, that’s how good the hotels are, or how they’re enjoying the city. Anything we can do to make their experience here special, we do, because you’re 100% right, we’re at a really tough spot.
GIBBS: Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of tournaments in the United States that aren’t Indian Wells or Miami or the U.S. Open struggle recently — especially women’s-only tournaments. Why have you been able to buck that trend and continue to succeed? And have you ever thought of adding men? It seems like the fact that this is a women’s-only tournament is something that Charleston really embraces.
MORAN: Oh, I think again, it’s twofold there, too. So No. 1, yeah, we are a woman’s only event, that we do embrace. Do we always look for opportunities? Absolutely.
I’d say the biggest difference — and it’s something that preach to the USTA and others — is we’re also here year round. We’re not coming in a month before, building a site, running the event, and walking away. We’re an integral part of the fabric of this community now. So we are in conversations all year long with our local partners. We’re driving tennis every day, not just the eight to 10 days of our tournament. And I really do believe that’s important. If you look at it, it’s not by surprise that, you know, I have two local girls playing in our main draw this year, two girls born and raised here in Charleston. And that’s pretty amazing.
When you look at Shelby Rogers, you know, she was a ball girl of ours that first year we were here 19 years ago, and she’s back at 26 years old. And now we have Emma Navarro, who is a 17 year old, who grew up watching this event and participating in tennis and being in Charleston So it’s no surprise that the two players — and we have more, not just those two — that are engaging at the highest level of tennis are women. We don’t have anybody on the on the ATP tour or down that path yet.
So I think professional tennis has an unbelievable effect on community tennis. And we embrace that, and we definitely build consensus here at all times on how to make this event better. So I think that’s a big, big difference to be honest with you.
GIBBS: The event has a new owner, Ben Navarro. How has that partnership been so far? And what does that mean for the for the tournament going forward, does this mean that there’s stability and that we can all kind of know that Charleston’s going to be here for years to come?
MORAN: That’s the truth. We’re very excited to have Ben, he’s a big tennis fan, his kids all play and have played, so he knows how important it is. And he knows how important this event is for the community. And he wants to make it better than we already are. He wants to continue to grow. And that’s evident this year by what we’re able to build out from the site. I think anybody who’s been here, the reviews of what our site looks like this year are through the roof. And I go back to what do we do that makes a difference. And I would say if you go to any other tennis event and take a walk around and look at crowds on quallies weekend, you’ll see it’s pretty sparse and bare. But if you came here this weekend, we had attendance records Saturday and Sunday.
Ben wants us to get better. He wants us to be more. He wants to invest in the property and you know, continue to make it special. I think we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. And having Ben on board really helps us do the kinds of things we think we can do to make this bigger and better every year.