It’s now half-time for the North American Sunshine Special. The BNP Paribas Open is over. The traveling tennis circus heads across the country for the Miami Open. The thin air of the California desert gives way to the thick humidity of Florida. So long, low-key Palm Springs. Hello, urban Miami.
Tournament founders Charlie Pasarell (California) and Butch Buchholz (Florida) were long fond of the rivalry they created – a kindly arms race to build the best possible event. Way back, Buchholz was the one in the lead. Though Pasarell had first started to run his event in 1981, in 1985 it was Buchholz who began a near-Slam level dual-gender event. By 1994, Buchholz had christened a sparkling new facility in Key Biscayne – including a 13,300-seat stadium who’s mix of cozy and epic makes it to me the best lead court in North America. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden opened in 2000. “Got to keep up with Butch,” said Pasarell.
But in the last few years, each event has taken a different twist. Billionaire Larry Ellison’s 2009 purchase of Indian Wells has helped the tournament flourish, including such innovations as becoming the only event with Hawk-Eye on each court, as well as a new stadium and various enhancements throughout the grounds.
The Miami vibe also remains rich too, spiced up by a distinct Latin flavor that often gives matches a soccer-like atmosphere. But complicated legal and real estate matters have made it challenging for the tournament to upgrade the facility, triggering rumors that the event, owned by sports management firm IMG, might relocate. Last week, though, IMG president Mark Shapiro was quoted in the Florida Sun-Sentinel: “We’re staying in Miami, that’s a promise. We have no intention of moving to Orlando or anywhere else . . . We’re proud of our heritage. There’s just too much history, too much tradition that’s steeped in this partnership for us to ever walk away from Miami.”