By Charles Bricker
Could the women’s tennis tour return to seaside, holiday-maker paradise Delray Beach, Fla., where it once was a highly desirable venue 15 years ago?
The idea isn’t even on the back burner of anyone at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, but it’s beginning to smoulder on the back burner of Mark Baron’s brain, and Baron, tournament director of the ATP 250 that began in Delray on Monday, has a history of bringing his ideas to fruition.
“I love to throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks,” Baron said. ”My concept is to have three tournaments all together — a women’s event, the ATP Champions and this ATP tournament.”
It was almost exactly one year ago that Baron, walking the grounds of the Delray Beach Tennis Center on the free first day of qualifying, pondered how he could put paying customers in the stands on a sunny weekend day in late February in South Florida.
Something clicked on upstairs. What about Jim Courier’s international tour of 30- and 40-year old former Grand Slam winners and finalists. He said he phoned Courier with the concept and they had a verbal agreement to run a four-day event, beginning on Saturday and finishing on Tuesday night.
That would create a huge attendance boost for four days on which there was previously either no paying fans or (Monday and Tuesday) a couple of days where there are historically small crowds.
He then phoned the ATP office in London to get the dual tournaments sanctioned and found out that the ATP was planning a former champions tour of its own. He settled on the ATP group because the logistics seemed better — both events being run by the ATP.
This past weekend, while qualifying for the regular tour International Tennis Championships played out on the outside courts, John McEnroe, Patrick Rafter, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Aaron Krickstein, Johan Kriek, Andres Gomez and Ronald Agenor pulled in about 4,500 fans each day.
This morning, Baron leaned back in a chair in his office, smiling at the success of his marketing coup and looking forward to a second year in 2011. By 2013, he said, he wants to add the WTA to the mix.
The women would play the first week, overlapping the start of the Champions group and giving Baron additional revenue by adding two WTA semis to the calendar. The Champions then would overlap the men, who would begin on Monday.
The old Virginia Slims WTA tournament at Delray was a big-time tournament. In the 12 years it was played, Steffi Graf won it six times and Gabriela Sabatini and Chris Evert three times each. It was a great convenience for all three. Graf and Evert had homes in nearby Boca Raton and Sabatini lived in Miami.
It couldn’t be lost on Baron that Venus and Serena Williams live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., about a 20-minute drive from the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Could this be their hometown tournament?
There’s a very long distance to travel between the back burner in Baron’s brain and placement of a new or transferred tournament on the WTA calendar. But when Baron throws something at the wall, he usually coats in with super glue.
Charles Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org