On Monday, Miami Open presented by Itau Tournament Director James Blake exclusively spoke to ATPTour.com about the event's new venue, Hard Rock Stadium, the most interesting feedback he's gotten, David Ferrer and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
What’s been the best part of the venue change for you thus far?
For me it’s the optimism. The fact that any time a player or a fan or anyone asks for something, that we usually have the ability to take care of it. We’re coming up with solutions to the minor problems that are coming up. But I just love the fact that we’re going to be able to keep growing this event, and we’re going to be better and better and every year the players are going to come back to some sort of improvement. I’m just really loving the optimism.
A lot of the players had emotional ties to the old venue at Crandon Park because they’ve played there as juniors and pros. What has the process been like helping bring them on board here?
I really understood the skepticism last year, when you hear there’s going to be a stadium court inside a 60,000-seat stadium and there are going to be 29 other courts in a parking lot. It doesn’t sound appealing to a lot of players. But then when they’ve seen it, they’ve come around and they see how well it was done, how world-class the courts are.
Some of the players don’t take the time to go out to the village and see what’s out there for the fans, but hopefully they can at least appreciate that there are so many fans. We’re breaking records nearly every session, so they’ve got more fans to watch them play and I think they’re enjoying and appreciating that as well.
What’s been the biggest compliment you’ve gotten from the players?
I’d say from a player just hearing the fact that they love it. They’re excited to be here. So far the most animated they’ve gotten is with the coffee. They’ve got good coffee here. They didn’t like it at first, we fixed it right away, and we got some good coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker so I don’t have the same passion, but the passion of coffee drinkers is pretty strong.
Arthur Ashe Stadium is one thing with more than 23,000 seats, but your main court is inside a football stadium. How special has that been?
I think it gives us unique opportunities because we’ve got the 9s, which is nine unbelievable suites. We’ve got The 72 Club, which is another suite up a little higher and we’ve got the luxury seats down by the court. People are sitting in recliners. I actually went out yesterday and watched about half of a match sitting in those recliners in the front row. Even the US Open that’s got 23,000 seats and it’s beautiful, it’s amazing, it’s state of the art, it doesn’t have that kind of luxury the way that we have here.
So we’ve got a pretty unique selling point to a lot of fans. I spoke to a fan just the other day saying we were in Indian Wells, we came here as well and we just got talked into this upgrade and we’re doing it again next year because this suite is unbelievable, we’ve never experienced anything like this in tennis. To have that kind of compliment and to have that kind of ability makes me really excited about what the fans can experience here because it’s really unique.
What’s been your favourite tennis moment of the event?
I’d say Ferrer coming through against Sascha Zverev. I love Sascha Zverev, he’s going to have a ton of great experiences in tennis, a ton of great moments, but Ferrer, this is one of his last events. He’s got only two more events after this. We gave him the wild card because he’s done so much for the sport of tennis, been a finalist here before. The fans really love him and deservedly so. He’s the kind of guy who comes to work every day giving his absolute 100 per cent and he showed that, worked extremely hard to beat Sascha Zverev on a hard-fought night match.
So to have him win a couple matches in his swan song, it’s pretty fun for me to see. It’s a lot of fun when someone’s already reached that point in their career that they know they’re done, but they’ve still got a little bit left in the tank.
Did that night bring back any memories to your three matches against him and sort of give you flashbacks?
I remember playing him and how difficult it was and so I sensed some of Sascha Zverev’s frustrations when he was playing him. It did bring back some memories of some of my matches with him and just watching him play a lot as well, I think a lot of players respect and admire how much he’s gotten out of his game. At 5’9” against a Tour that has become increasingly tall and big and strong, he’s accounted for that with heart, with intangibles and with consistency and a great mindset for the game.
It’s something that’s really impressive because as they always say you can’t teach 6’6”, you can’t teach someone genetics. But his heart, that’s something he’s sort of been born with, but it takes a ton of work every single day to be committed to putting in the effort that he’s putting in. I like seeing that and I love the way his career has gone and the way he’s retiring now, he’s going to be a legend in our sport for a very long time.
While David is closing out his career, Felix Auger-Aliassime is just getting started, and he’s into the Round of 16 at an ATP Masters 1000 event for the first time. What’s it been like to see him break through at your event?
It’s a lot of fun. Felix is someone who played qualies as a wild card last year, played qualies this year. He would’ve gotten into the main draw if it had just been a couple weeks later. To come through qualies, it very easily could be the last qualies he plays in his career because he’s that good that he should never really be dropping back down into qualies. He’s got such amazing talent and it’s fun to see because he’s got a really good head on his shoulders for a guy who’s only 18 years old. He’s far beyond where I was at 18 physically and emotionally, so I think I’ve got a lot of respect for the way he’s gone about his young career already, putting his health first, doing a lot of things the right way, taking steps in the process rather than trying to make huge leaps and bounds right away.
When you take those steps, it’s amazing how quickly those bounds come. You start having success quicker and quicker and it becomes almost easier than expected. Now people are starting to expect big things out of him and we’ll see because the next step is living up to those expectations and figuring out how to deal with those mentally and emotionally and the fact that there are so many people who are going to be on him, whether it be media, sponsors, critics, everything’s going to be around him and he’s got to be able to distance himself from that and focus on the tennis.