Serena Williams: Tennis Needs The Miami Open
Serena Williams wins her record eighth Miami Open title in 2015. Credit: Miami Open

Amid all of the tennis drama as a result of BNP Paribas CEO and Tournament Director Raymond Moore, there is another tense battle going down in Miami over the future of the Miami Open, one of the largest tennis tournaments in the world, behind the four Grand Slams.

The Miami Open, which has been played under different sponsored names, has taken place at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, in Key Biscayne, Florida, since 1987, when the tournament was called Lipton International Players Championships. Now, there is a difficult legal battle ensuing between the tournament and the city.

Due to popular demand, both by the players and the fans, the tournament wants to expand and make renovations; however, the issue lies in the fact that Crandon Park is a public park, and the city is pushing back. One of the tournaments greatest champions, world number one and eight-time Miami Open champion Serena Williams wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, arguing that tennis needs the Miami Open.

Serena: “Miami Is A True Home To Me”

In her op-ed piece, the 21-time Grand Slam Champion described how as a professional tennis player, she has traveled the globe more than 20 times and has come to love many of the cities to which she travels, from Melbourne, to Paris, to New York to London. However, she expressed a special love for Miami.

“One place that’s been a true home for me over the past 20 years is Miami, the host of one of the world’s most special sporting events: The Miami Open,” Serena wrote. “I grew up in Compton, Calif., and moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., at nine years old. Every March, my dad would take Venus and me to Crandon Park on Key Biscayne for what was then called the Lipton International Players Championships."

"Miami is where I had the chance to watch some of the greats compete. Little did I know back then, sitting on the sideline with braids in my hair, but I was about to embark on an incredible life journey that would see me play at the Miami Open across three decades.”

Serena and Venus' father, Richard Williams, celebrates both of his daughters as they face off in the 1999 final. Credit: Robert Sullivan/Getty Images
Serena and Venus' father, Richard Williams, celebrates both of his daughters as they face off in the 1999 final. Credit: Robert Sullivan/Getty Images

Serena: “Leaving Miami Would Sadden Me”

As the legal battle ensues, there is a growing consensus around the tennis world the Miami and Key Biscayne in general might simply not be able to hold the tournament going forward, as it has grown to be such a large and popular tournament. Serena remembered some of her first experiences at the tournament, and how the moments changed not only her life, but also her tennis career.

“I made my first appearance there in 1998, reaching the quarterfinals,” Serena said. “The next year, Venus and I faced off in the final, in what would be the first of our 11 finals meetings. I was coming off back-to-back tournament wins and riding high with confidence. But Venus has always been my most challenging opponent, the best player I’ve ever played.”

“It was an incredible day for our family, and I remember my nervous excitement before the match,” the world number one said. “My dad held a sign that read, ‘Welcome to the Williams Show [see photo above].’ After I lost the first set, he switched it to another sign, ‘Go, Serena. Go!’ A capacity crowd of 14,000 shouted from the stands, ‘Go, Williams!’"

"I think my dad was more nervous than Venus and me combined, but he was so proud of how far we’d come and what each of us had achieved. Venus beat me that day and went on to win the Miami Open in 1998, 1999 and 2001. I made sure we kept it in the family, following up with the first of my eight Miami Open wins in 2002.”

Serena congratulates her sister Venus on winning the tournament in 1999. Credit: Credit Rhona Wise/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Serena congratulates her sister Venus on winning the tournament in 1999. Credit: Credit Rhona Wise/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Serena: Miami Open Plays An Important Role In Players' Lives

“The Miami Open has played an important role in my life and the lives of so many others,” Serena said. “The event has always supported up-and-coming players, giving wild cards over the years to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and James Blake before anyone had heard of them. In 1997, the tournament offered a wild card to Venus when she was just 16 years old.”

Serena went on to describe how the tournament not only helped up and coming players, but also led the revolution in terms of gender equality as well as equal prize money, a debate that has suddenly come back to the mainconversation.

“Miami also helped lead the way for gender equality in the tennis world,” the eight-time Miami Open champ wrote. “Before 1985, the only combined men’s and women’s events were the four Grand Slams. In its inaugural year, the Miami Open broke that convention and featured both men and women.”

“Perhaps even more significant, the Miami Open paid equal prize money to men and women during the first staging of the event in 1985. In 2007, a decade after playing in her first Miami Open tournament, Venus led the successful battle for equal prize money for women at Wimbledon, ensuring that all four Grand Slam events paid women and men equally. The Miami Open had carried out Venus’s vision of equality two decades earlier.

Serena defeats Jelena Jankovic in 2008 to win her fifth Miami Open (then named Sony Ericsson Open) title. Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Serena defeats Jelena Jankovic in 2008 to win her fifth Miami Open (then named Sony Ericsson Open) title. Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

“Leaving Miami Would Be A Blow To Our Sport”

Overall, the world number one and 21-time Grand Slam Champion has achieved incredible success under the sun in Miami and would hate for the players, as well as the city, to lose such a great tournament.

“As a tennis tournament, Miami has always achieved greatly despite the odds,” Serena said. “It doesn’t take place in the biggest city; it’s not the oldest, nor is it the most traditional. But the tournament keeps moving forward, finding creative ways of improving each year.

“Leaving Miami would be a blow to our sport, to the city of Miami and to me. The tournament has, in many ways, set the standard for tennis events around the world in a unique time and place, and I hope we can all work together to improve this home court. I am so grateful for the opportunities the Miami Open has afforded Venus and me, and I can’t wait to get another chance at holding that trophy a week from Saturday.”

The 2016 Miami Open is currently underway and runs through April 3. Credit: USTA Florida
The 2016 Miami Open is currently underway and runs through April 3. Credit: USTA Florida

The 2016 Miami Open is underway right now, as the qualifying rounds come to a close. The main draw begins on Wednesday, March 23rd. Serena will play her opening match of the tournament on Thursday, March 24th during the day. Venus also plays her opening match during the day but on Friday, March 25th.

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