The United States Tennis Association has stepped in to help the ATP Tour event in Memphis, Tennessee remain exactly where it is.
This is no small thing; the century-old tournament – we refer to it as the "Memphis tournament" because it is currently without a title sponsor – has been on shaky ground for some time.
At the moment, they're calling it the "U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships."
The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that the USTA along with the local consortium that owns the host Racquet Club of Memphis have joined forces to purchase the tournament (and the slot on the tour schedule) from Sharks Sports & Entertainment, which had owned it since 2008 after purchasing it from the club's former owner.
Why did a northern California-based company that owns the NHL's San Jose Sharks own a small pro tennis event in Memphis, Tennessee, you ask? Well, the answer to that is one of the issues the event has been dealing with in the last few years, beyond poor attendance and a lack of marquee American names to promote.
The tournament was part of a convoluted game of musical chairs last year. Sharks Sports & Entertainment sold the Memphis event, which had been a joint men's and women's tournament since 2002, to a group that moved it to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Then, they transferred the SAP Open, the long-standing tournament they owned in San José, Calif. that had a glorious history but also had fallen on hard times, to Memphis, to keep tennis in a community that had long supported it.
It became a men's-only event, though, and a downgraded one.
The old Memphis tournament was an ATP Tour 500-level tournament, which at least guaranteed a few familiar names. The San José event that was transferred in was only a 250-level event. The stands were deserted most of the week in the first year of this new state of affairs.
According to the Commercial Appeal, the USTA's interest stems mainly from its desire to avoid losing yet another U.S. professional tournament. In the 1980s, the story says, there were 36 in the U.S. In 2014 only 10 others remain: the big Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells, Miami and Cincinnati, Delray Beach, Houston (on red clay), Newport on grass right after Wimbledon, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Winston-Salem in the leadup to the U.S. Open. And, of course, the U.S. Open itself.
The USTA owns its home Grand Slam, as well as the Atlanta and Cincinnati events.
The last corporate sponsor to underwrite the Memphis event was Regions Morgan Keegan, three years ago. The tournament has gone through a number of them: Cellular South, Kroger St. Jude, Volvo. The new owners – as all new owners tend to – are confident they can lock in a local enterprise for the next edition in 2015.
The decline in the number of American events and the struggles of the remaining ones are inextricably intertwined with the lack of top homegrown stars these days. Back in the glory years, players like John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras often made a pit stop in Tenneesse.
The list of former champions also includes Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Vijay Amritraj, Stan Smith and Ivan Lendl.
The last big homegrown attraction of note was Andy Roddick, who was pretty good about supporting San Jose and Memphis, which as it happens were played on lightning-fast indoor surfaces that also suited his game to a T. As well, San José title sponsor SAP was also Roddick's sponsor.
Roddick retired at the end of the 2012 season.
- Sports & Recreation