Attendance is off at this year’s Miami Open.
As of yesterday – including day and evening sessions – the tournament has admitted 2,056 fewer people compared to turnstile totals for the same dates in 2014.
The drop could just be a result of early round competition, meaning ticket sales will be heavier once the quarterfinals get underway. Or, it’s just an off year.
Or, perhaps, the tournament is waning.
But two day sessions set records: March 23 (8,568), the first day of qualifications, and March 26 (14,827), the beginning of both main draw competitions. March 26th was a sellout, along with Saturday’s and Sunday’s day sessions.
But no records were set.
The last time a session record was set before this year? In 2011 (once), then twice in 2010, three times in 2008, and another times in 2007, according to tournament data.
Numbers are funny. Viewed in their absolute state, they mean little. But in comparison, reason might be discerned.
Perhaps this year’s gate is off because of the players’ field.
Roger Federer decided to bypass Miami. Federer alluded to his dislike of the 10-day format during the BNP Paribas Open, adding that he felt there was too much “down time.” Federer is loved everywhere. At times he’s received more applause from local fans than have country nationals across the net.
Yesterday, Rafael Nadal lost in a tough three-setter to Fernando Verdasco. Nadal’s loss will have its consequences come next Monday when new rankings are calculated. He could fall outside the Top 5 – if Kei Nishikori advances in his next round against No. 18 seed David Goffin. Nerves, said Nadal, were one problem yesterday. His absence will be felt at Crandon Park.
He, like Federer, is much loved.
Maria Sharapova lost in the opening round, as well. Though the five-time finalist has never won the tournament in 10 appearances, her strong record and familiar name draws fans. Her ability to concentrate and fight through adversity is a stand-out quality that people appreciate and rather raucously admire.
Another Miami champion was eliminated on Monday: 2012 winner Agnieszka Radwanska. The No. 7 seed lost to an in-form No. 12 seed in Carla Suarez Navarro, 5-7, 6-0, 6-4. The Pole’s colleague Caroline Wozniacki came up short against Venus Williams, losing, 6-3, 7-6(1), even with a spate of double faults from the American ahead of the tiebreak.
Ultimately, all is not a loss due to the disappearances and decision-making of a few. Two of the “Big Four” remain, including the defending champion, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. Potential Big 4 bedfellows Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic are on a collision course to meet in the quarterfinals, should the seeds hold.
Nishikori and Raonic two are the hottest commodities on the ATP Tour, given their deep ascendency into the Top 10.
The Canadian had his first Big Four win in Indian Wells, beating Nadal in the quarterfinals. He held off a charging Jeremy Chardy in a three sets Monday, taking out the No. 31 seed, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(3).
Nishikori’s experiences in Miami have been mixed, given his unexpected withdrawal from the semifinals last year, which certainly must play on his mind in some small part.
After his match – a more straightforward affair against Serbia’s Viktor Troicki, the Japanese star would add “some more courts” if he could make any change at the Miami Open. He added, “This is one of the best Masters they have on tour. Maybe Indian Wells, they have so much money so they can create more stuff. But this is also growing. I think [it’s] much better every year.”
The Nishikori brand, in part polished by millions of dollars from Willson Racquet Sports – maker of his new Burn stick – has certainly influenced ticket sales. At the average tournament, a group of Japanese media is assigned, primarily to cover him. When he loses, most leave the tournament. Upload his image to Twitter and expects hundreds of retweets and favorite stars.
Two players capable of bolstering sagging attendance continue to be the Williams sisters. World No. 1 Serena Williams defeated 2006 Miami champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2 6-3.
The Williamses live in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, and have a deep seated sense that they are home on the courts of Crandon Park.
“I love this tournament,” elder sister Venus said, after her win. “Just being at home, and I have a lot of great memories here. It was my first big win [in 1997].”
“I think this tournament is just … it’s just a home event,” the top seed said, later. “They have always been really catering and open to all of the players.”
The top seed is on the hunt for her 8th, and record-breaking, title in Miami. But what, if anything, would the sisters improve at Crandon Park?
“I’m not here to pick and point about what can be improved,” she said. “If so, I’m going to talk about it on council.”
The elder Williams – a three-time Miami winner herself – weighed in as well.
“This is also dedicated to improving the facilities, and they have a longterm plan actually for improvements. It’s just a matter of time, I feel, until that happens. It’s all in the works and all positives. [Sometimes] it’s not always easy to get [plans] through the infrastructure of the city and residents.”
To pinpoint the reason attendance is off is, quite frankly, impossible. Maybe families took a trip out of town for their kids’ spring break. Maybe parking has become so difficult people have decided to stay at home and watch matches on television or live-streaming online. Maybe the NCAA March Madness has finally taken its toll on tennis.
Put in perspective, the 2,056 people that have not arrived on the grounds would only account for 15% of the total seating capacity of Stadium 1. Not a whole lot. But couple the downward trend with the difficulties the tournament continues to have with small, and obstinate, groups fighting the expansion, the figures have to watched. If enthusiasm for the event adversely effects the Miami Open, the naysayers will gain steam and, perhaps, send tournament dreams up in smoke.
For a tournament with such a strong history in south Florida, and internationally, that outcome would be a loss for tennis.