L.A. Tennis Open is more rank-and-file than top-rank
When John McEnroe was at Newport Beach last week playing World Team Tennis, he was asked about the field in the upcoming L.A. Tennis Open ATP men’s event.
“That’s a good question,” McEnroe said. “I’m not sure who is even playing in L.A., I have to be honest with you. Hopefully, they got a good field. Who is playing?”
Maybe it’s easier to say who’s not playing in this event, which begins today at UCLA with a noon match between wild-card invitee Chris Guccione and former UCLA player Kevin Kim.
Defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro isn’t playing. Nor is 2007 champion Radek Stepanek. Nor are either of the best-known Americans, Andy Roddick and James Blake, or any player in the top 10 -- no Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic.
The No. 1-seeded player is two-time winner Tommy Haas of Germany, a 31-year-old who is ranked No. 20 in the world and whose best days are most likely behind him. Seeded second is 22nd-ranked, 27-year-old Mardy Fish, an American with a friendly temperament -- he came to Friday night’s draw to mingle with sponsors and supporters of the event now in its 83rd year in Los Angeles -- but not a hugely marketable name.
And it takes a true tennis lover to be more than vaguely familiar with third-seeded Dmitry Tursunov of Russia (even though he lives in Roseville, Calif.) and fourth-seeded Dudi Sela of Israel, who did make it to the fourth round at Wimbledon.
In a non-serious suggestion of how he might promote this event, which has 28 men in the main draw and runs through Sunday, McEnroe said, “Great beaches?”
But McEnroe wasn’t entirely wrong.
Tournament director Bob Kramer knows he doesn’t have the strongest field for a tournament whose roster of champions includes Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzalez, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, McEnroe, Arthur Ashe, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
One of his enticements to players this year was that the hip and trendy Sunset Marquis hotel in West Hollywood would be their home while in town. “That stuff matters to players,” McEnroe said.
It also takes a financial commitment beyond prize money to lure a couple of top-10 names -- upward of $400,000, with the caveat a player might have to do an extra media event or sponsor party.
“Quite frankly,” Kramer said, “we have the money necessary and we made very focused attempts to get a few top-10 players. When it became clear Roddick and James Blake were un-doable, we began working strongly to get Murray and Djokovic. Both of them had signed with the CAA agency and had some local ties. It didn’t work out, and so we went another direction with our money.”
That direction includes having a series of past champions play exhibition matches throughout the week.
“When I was pretty certain we couldn’t get one of our targets,” Kramer said, “we targeted some past champions and legends. We were able to bring in Courier, Chang, Edberg, Sampras, because of past relationships. I think our ticket buyers are pleased.
“But in the future, yes, we have to consider other ways to draw some top-10 players.”
John Tobias, president of Blue Entertainment Sports Television (BEST), which represents Americans Sam Querrey, John Isner, Fish and Bob and Mike Bryan -- all of whom are in the L.A. field -- said it was “just a little bit unlucky with the event this year.”
BEST also promotes the event next week in Washington, where Roddick, Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are expected.
Prize money also matters. ATP tournaments are part of either the 1000 series, the 500 series or the 250 series. The higher the series number, the more prize money and ATP ranking points available.
Next week’s Washington event is in the 500 series, and upcoming tournaments in Cincinnati and Montreal are 1000 events, where nearly all the top players will enter to prepare for the U.S. Open.
Los Angeles is a 250 event. Cincinnati and Montreal offer $3 million in prize money; Washington offers $1.6 million; Los Angeles, $700,000.
There will certainly be intriguing tennis played.
Robby Ginepri beat Querrey on Sunday in the final at Indianapolis, and both will be here. Sela is a new star of the Israeli Davis Cup team that recently upset Russia.
“We offer the players great amenities, the fans get a quality experience,” Kramer said.
But Kramer also knows he can’t rely on selling tickets based on players whose prime was 10 or 20 years ago.
“We’ve had great champions here in the past, we’ll have more,” he said.
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L.A. Tennis Open
What:ATP men’s tournament; 28-player draw.
Where: Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.
When: Begins today with day and evening sessions through Saturday. All day sessions start at noon; today, Tuesday and Thursday evening schedule at 7:30; Wednesday at 7; Friday and Saturday at 8; Sunday, doubles final at noon and singles final at 2 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 beginning Thursday.
Today’s schedule: noon, Chris Guccione vs. Kevin Kim, followed by Jesse Levine vs. Bobby Reynolds and Vince Spadea vs. Robert Kendrick; 7:30 p.m., Pete Sampras vs. Marat Safin, exhibition; followed by Sampras Tournament Honoree ceremony; followed by doubles match, Safin and Igor Kunitsyn vs. Marcos Baghdatis and Dudi Sela.
Evening schedules: Tuesday, 7:30, Robby Ginepri vs. Safin, followed by Denis Istomin vs. Sam Querrey. Wednesday, 7, Bob and Mike Bryan vs. Carsten Ball and Kaes Van’t Hof, followed by Tommy Haas vs. Levine or Reynolds. Thursday, 7:30, Mardy Fish vs. Guccione or Kim, followed by Michael Chang vs. Stefan Edberg, exhibition.
Prize money: $700,000.
Top-seeded players: No. 1 Tommy Haas, Germany; No. 2 Mardy Fish; No. 3, Dmitry Tursunov, Russia; No. 4, Dudi Sela, Israel.
Tickets: Single session from $25 to $60. Information at email@example.com, or (310) 824-1010, Ext. 251.
-- Diane Pucin
L.A. Tennis Open
Where: Los Angeles Tennis Center, UCLA.
TV: ESPN2 beginning Thursday.