According to a report by longtime Memphis Commercial Appeal journalist Phil Stukenborg, the indoor tournament in Memphis, Tennessee was played for the last time this February.
The good news, according to Stukenborg, is that it will remain in the U.S., moving to the New York City area for its 2018 edition. The Nassau Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., long the time of the NHL’s Islanders until the team moved to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season, is expected to be the tournament’s new home.
It seemed inevitable something was going to happen when GF Sports Inc., bought the event in 2015. The president of the company is Jerry Solomon, the man behind the annual World Tennis Day exhibition event at Madison Square Garden that began with the memorable Sampras vs. Federer match more than a decade ago.
The social-media side of the tournament immediately stepped up. No doubt the company searched for a major title sponsor for the tournament, something it hadn’t had since 2011. Technically, the San Jose event was transferred to Memphis while the Memphis event itself, which had hosted a concurrent women’s tournament since 2002, saw both relocated to Brazil (the women’s tournament there only lasted a couple of years, and moved on to Budapest in 2017). The year before that, the ATP stop in Los Angeles had been bought and relocated to Bogotá, Colombia.
According to Stukeborg, GF Sports is the tournament’s third owner since 2013; the USTA stepped in to buy it at one point, with the interest of keeping it in the U.S after the number of the tournaments has dwindled alarmingly over the years.
During the years American star Andy Roddick faithfully turned up, the tournament survived. But after his retirement, with no marquee American player to help ticket sales; it struggled. Stukeborg writes that the tournament lost $1 million each of the last two years GF Sports has owned it. Kei Nishikori, who won the event four times from 2013-16, didn’t play this year so, officially, American Ryan Harrison will be the final champion in the history of the tournament.
The Racquet Club of Memphis is believed to be the last private tennis club to host a tour event; the requirements of top-level tennis over the years have far outgrown the dimensions of what a private club can provide.
In moving, as reported, to the Nassau Coliseum, it becomes a completely different event, but one that has access to a massive potential market in the New York City area. Other than the U.S. Open every summer, there are no other pro tennis opportunities for a market of 20 million people. Then again, the Los Angeles market, and its 13 million, boasts neither a men’s nor a women’s event at this point.
Some European events are hosted in indoor arenas, which usually mean the second match court is tucked away somewhere and practice courts are a challenge. But they find a way to make it work.
For one year in 1990, the ATP even hosted a winter indoor event in Toronto, won by Ivan Lendl. Here’s what the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) looked like:
The same company also acquired the July ATP stop in Atlanta, which had been purchased by the USTA in 2009 (in a similar effort to keep the license from being acquired by another country). It was relocated from its longtime home in Indianapolis. It’ll be interesting to see what GF Sports does with that event down the road, although the site there is superb and it does have a title sponsor in BB&T.