What began in the 1960s as a dream by a few top players for an international tennis tournament in South Florida — one that was later dubbed the Winter Wimbledon — has become a real economic winner. Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, last year’s women’s and men’s champions, respectively, couldn’t have aced things much better.
Established in 1985, the Miami Open presented by Itaú — largest privately owned Latin American bank — has volleyed into an event that serves up a $380 million local economic impact, with more than 15,000 hotel rooms booked, in turn creating streams of retail and restaurant spending.
Throughout the tournament, March 21 to April 3, 96 men and women compete in singles matches and 32 teams play doubles. Prize money is $11 million. Those are impressive numbers. However, they can’t compete with the sheer electricity (and dollars) generated inside and near the host site, Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, by 300,000-plus spectators from around the world.
In truth, many of them couldn’t name a player, but they’re there to be part of the action. The Miami Open has become that kind of draw.
On Feb. 4, 1985, following 20 years of back and forth to create a world-class tennis tournament, the first ball was struck by Manuela Maleeva en route to a victory over Angeliki Kanellopula. The first tournament turned out 84 of the top 100 men and 97 of the top 100 women. ESPN telecast the first weekend and the men’s semifinals, and ABC telecast the finals live. Networks from Australia, England, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden and West Germany also were present.
It was an exceptional start. Clearly, though, those were only the first points in what has emerged as the almost the perfect match of event and place. On the court through this weekend, players continue to work toward titles. Yet, the Miami Open has already been crowned.
This month’s U.S. Open Polo Championship® (April 3-24), considered to be the most prestigious polo tournament nationwide, might not look different from the past. However, site of the event — the International Polo Club Palm Beach — is close to changing hands.
The 248-acre equestrian property in Wellington reportedly is being sold by a trust owned by the family of John Goodman to Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Wellington Equestrian Partners. Bellissimo would then own the two largest polo competition facilities in Wellington, the sport’s unofficial U.S. capital.
According to reports, a sale closing is planned for late April. In November 2014, Goodman was sentenced to prison for DUI manslaughter and remains in prison.
The U.S. Open Polo Championship culminates a 17-week winter polo season that attracts polo enthusiasts from more than 30 countries and 50 states. This year, eight teams of elite players are competing, many of whom are recognized as the best polo players in the sport’s history. The event dates back to 1904, first played at New York’s Van Cortlandt Park. Since 2004, it’s been played at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington.
Michigan vs. Florida
As if Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t creating enough of a stir with the Southeastern Conference, he’s made another move. On March 31, the night before the Michigan Wolverines kicked off their spring football game in Michigan, he received a verbal commitment from one of the Sunshine State’s high-school products.
Chase Lasater, a rising-senior linebacker from Jacksonville, isn’t a big name in recruiting circles. Yet, he is Michigan’s first 2017 commitment from Florida, with signs of plenty more to come. For the past few weeks, the Wolverines have held their spring football training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, raising eyebrows and calls for encroachment. Now his game plan of attracting players from the Sunshine State to Michigan is unfolding.
More than a few people are keeping score.
Photo Credit: Top image via miamiopen.com.