Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas could move to Tampa area
By Charles Bricker | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
KEY BISCAYNE - The Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas probably will be sold this summer after an unsuccessful two-year run and Butch Buchholz, tournament chairman of the Sony Ericsson Open, will be among those bidding to buy it and move it to Saddlebrook Resort, just outside Tampa.
The ATP also is believed to be interested in purchasing the tournament and moving it to South Africa, a decision that would cause a great deal of consternation at the USTA headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., which takes a very hard line on any American tournament leaving the country.
USTA CEO Arlen Kantarian has sent a letter to ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers expressing his concern over the prospect of the tournament leaving the U.S.
The ATP had no definitive comment on sale of the tournament, except to point out that no decision could be made on sale of any tournament until the ATP board of directors meets at Wimbledon in June.
Sale of the Vegas event would reduce the number of U.S. men's tournaments from 14 to 13 after the USTA invested millions of dollars in the Tennis Channel, which has a contract to broadcast night matches at the Sony Ericsson Open and to also matches from the U.S. Open Series six weeks of men's and women's matches prior to the U.S. Open which was cobbled together as a package by the USTA.
Why the ATP would want to move a tournament to South Africa is a mystery. The country has very few professional players and no history of great tennis. What it does have is the headquarters of South African Airlines, which is a major ATP sponsor.
None of that is making officials at the USTA happy. One of that organization's major goals is to promote tennis in the United States.
The tournament was moved to Las Vegas from Scottsdale, where it had been owned by IMG.
Buchholz said Thursday there could be other bidders, but his plan to form a consortium of investors and play the tournament in a new, 8,000-seat stadium being planned by Saddlebrook. The tournament might keep its current dates the first week in March.
The tournament would have a built-in numbers of players who practice and live either at Saddlebrook or nearby Wesley Chapel, including James Blake, Mardy Fish and the Bryan twins, one of the leading doubles teams in men's tennis.
Saddlebrook is located just off I-75 15 minutes north of Tampa.
Charles Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org