March 29, 2008
USTA, ATP battle over future of Tennis Channel Open
Posted by Charles Bricker at 7:39:41 AM
KEY BISCAYNE -- One of my moles (not a shadowy human but an actual talking rodent) tells me that the letter sent by USTA czar Arlen Kantarian to ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers over the sale of the Las Vegas Tennis Channel Open was candid, clear and extremely tough.
I'd love to see a copy of the letter and I'm working on it, but neither organization is anxious to air this one out publicly. The ATP wants to buy the tournament from the Tennis Channel and move it out of the U.S., possibly South Africa. The USTA, which has invested $6 million in the Tennis Channel, is ready to call up the Marines if that tournament tries to leave the country.
And just to make things more interesting, Butch Buchholz, who is chairman of the Sony Ericsson Open, is putting together a consortium to buy the tournament and move it to Saddlebrook, just outside Tampa. That happens to be where Mardy Fish, the Bryan brothers, John Isner and James Blake practice and call home.
I asked Blake on Friday to comment on the possible loss of this tournament and it was obvious that he's in the loop, which is not surprising, considering his association with Saddlebrook.
"As an American, I know there's been quite a bit of a migration of tournaments from the U.S. I think not that many years ago there were 20 tournaments in the States," he said. There are now 14.
"So I would definitely like to see that number at least stay where it is. The tournament in Vegas, I know, hasn't drawn huge crowds. But if there is a possibility to have it somewhere else in the States, where we can keep kind of the swing going among Delray Beach, Memphis and San Jose, I think that would be great.
"Obviously, I'm a little biased, being an American, but I think it makes sense for the tour."
And if it moved to Saddlebrook? Did I see Blake's eyebrow raise there? "Yeah, I love playing in New Haven because it's so close my home, where I grew up. And if there's a chance to play another tournament close to Tampa, where I live now, whether it be Saddlebrook, that would be ideal. I'd do everything I can to make sure it sells out. I'd invite every single one of my friends."
There's going to be ample opportunity to keep the pressure on to hold onto that 14th U.S. tournament because no decision on sale of an event can be made without the ATP board, which doesn't meet again until Wimbledon.