TTI continues its look back at the 2014 season, and Jane Voigt examines one of the more infamous ATP moments of the year.
By: Jane Voigt
Roger Federer took bowing out of tournaments to dramatic new heights this fall when he withdrew from the ATP World Tour Finals. Minutes before he was supposed begin battling for a title he had already won six times, he stepped on court and said:
“I cannot compete.”
The crowd’s reaction was subdued. The media relayed news of compassion toward Federer, although dissidents spoke their minds.
The Williams sisters also have experience in tournament withdrawals. It was announced that Venus Williams pulled out ahead of the Indian Wells semifinals in 2001 – four minutes before she should have played sister, Serena. The tournament claimed that Venus had given no advance notice to tournament director Charlie Pasarell or the WTA, who both heard the news through the public address announcement.
The next day Serena and Kim Clijsters took to the desert court for their final. As Venus and father/coach Richard Williams walked to their seats to support the younger sister, boos from 15,000 fans filled the air. They wanted their disappointment heard. After Serena’s three-set triumph, the Williams’ family decided never to play the tournament. Their promise has never been broken.
A similar scene unfolded at the Sony Open Tennis on Friday, March 28, 2014. The excitement of two semifinals filled the tropical air at Crandon Park, on Key Biscayne, Fla., home of the combined ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory event. The top two seeds — Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — were set to play Tomas Berdych (No. 7) and Kei Nishikori (No. 20) in the afternoon and evening sessions, respectively. Tickets-holders wandered on to Park grounds hand-in-hand with friends and family, some having flown in for the occasion, which is considered a major sporting event in Miami. Expectations were piqued.
Unfortunately, neither match was played. For the first time since the Open Era began in 1968, both semifinalists withdrew. First Nishikori, and quickly afterward, Berdych. Nadal and Djokovic were each handed walkover wins to the final scheduled for Sunday. Djokovic would end up playing a total of three rounds the entire tournament and win the title for the fourth time.
The media was notified and tournament officials released information to radio, newspaper, and social media outlets regarding changes to both sessions. “Our concern was to notify our fans and guests, and the media, as soon as possible,” Tournament Director Adam Barrett said. “We wanted to tell people on their way to the tournament to try to let them know before they come.”
But, here’s the thing — getting to Crandon Park is a hassle. The trip is more like a journey. Timing is critical, especially on a Friday spring afternoon. Vehicles only have one route. They must first go through a toll booth in Miami, before crossing the Rickenbacker Causeway. Cars with no parking privileges at the Crandon Park site must park on Virginia Key and board a bus to Key Biscayne.
Friday traffic problems exacerbated travel, as it does in most metropolitan areas on the last day of the work week. People en route, therefore, probably didn’t hear about the cancellations until it was too late. They’d decked themselves out, gotten baby sitters, and maybe even rented a snazzy car — an undoubted status symbol in Miami.
When the afternoon crowds were informed, Stadium Court quickly dispersed. The loyal remained as the second match of the session appeared — the wild card team of Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki, plus Cara Black and Sania Mirza.
When the tournament announced the news to seated evening fans, they booed. Again, women’s doubles was presented to a scattering who decided to stay rather than buck the traffic headed back over the causeway. Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina defeated Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.
The tournament, which is owned by IMG, does not refund ticket prices as a policy. As a result, people were asked to exchange tickets for the 2015 semifinal match.
“We exchange tickets, but it will be for next year,” Barrett told the press. “It’s the policy we had two years ago when Rafael [Nadal] withdrew from the semifinals.”
The match would have been Nishikori’s first Masters 1000 semifinal. The tournament definitely had been a breakout for the young Japanese star. His tone during the impromptu press conference was conciliatory. Earlier he had posted on his Twitter account:
He had re-injured his groin. In prior rounds he defeated Grigor Dimitrov, saved four match points in his victory over 2013 finalist David Ferrer and, for the second time in a row, defeated Roger Federer.
Berdych spent a couple minutes with the media as well. He was ashen, having been diagnosed with gastroenteritis by ATP medical staff. The Czech veteran explained that he had gone to the same restaurant that he’d patronized the entire week, and ordered and ate the same entrée. “In the morning I just woke up with pain in my stomach and got really strong diarrhea,” Berdych said. “I’m glad I came here even to see you guys. That’s the worse basically a tennis player can get. Without any energy. I cannot do anything.” Berdych’s comments predate Federer’s, which came just over a week ago. However, the sentiment was similar.
They could not compete.
The Sony Open is a festival for Spanish, Latin, and South Americans. It’s sometimes referred to as the South American Open. With Nadal on the schedule, jubilance normally plays out like Salsa music. Looking back, the scene that day was improbable to imagine. The fact that Nadal was given a walkover astonished everyone involved. But that Djokovic also received one shook a tournament that did not need such an unlucky incident.
History was made on March 28, 2014, yet a type of history the Sony Open didn’t need or want. With grand plans to expand Crandon Park, the tournament expects to build on its out-of-date reputation as ‘the fifth Grand Slam,’ and ‘the most prestigious tournament in America,’ having fallen far behind since Larry Ellison bought Indian Wells and revived that desert gem to new heights.
Sony Open Tennis is now correctly referred to as The Miami Open presented by Iatu, the Brazlian bank and title sponsor. Lacoste signed as an Official Partner through 2019, too. A press release from the Miami Open in November wrote, “The Miami Open is regarded by many to be the most glamorous event on the ATP and WTA calendar.”
With well over a quarter million people crossing through entrance gates annually, the tournament will wait perhaps anxiously for March 23, day one of the 2015 edition.
Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!