NEW YORK — New York no longer has to wait for the U.S. Open for top-level tennis.
The New York Open debuts next week at Nassau Coliseum, the new home for a tournament that has attracted many of the best American men’s players and hopes it can someday get the best in the world.
The tournament couldn’t afford a Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in Memphis, but the move to Long Island opens new doors.
“As a concerned American, seeing tournaments sort of dry up in this area and go to different parts of the world, it’s of sort of particular importance for me and would like to see this be successful,” said tennis Hall of Famer John McEnroe. “I’m certainly hopeful that people will come out.”
That’s what tournament operators were expecting when they moved the event out of Memphis, where it was held for four decades and counts McEnroe among its former champions. But the venue capacity of 2,500 and market size made growth impossible there, and it had become a field of up-and-comers instead of guys already at the top.
But the Coliseum, which re-opened last year after a two-year renovation, will have a reconfigured seating capacity of about 6,000 for the two-court event. It will feature black courts – the tournament successfully petitioned the ATP Tour to use the color – and provides modern locker rooms and lounges for the players. Sell enough tickets, and that becomes appearance fee potential for someone at the top of the rankings.
“We now can competitively go to a Roger Federer – he may never want to play based on schedule, his calendar and his schedule – but you can at least go to a Roger Federer and say, `Listen, we can pay you, because we actually have the opportunity to be able to sell enough seats,”‘ said tournament director Josh Ripple.
“So from a pure business standpoint, being at NYCB Live and being here in New York provides us the ability to attract those players. We’re not attracting Roger Federer in 2018. But you know in 2019 or 2020, we can go out and be competitive and we can make an offer for a player like that. We could never do that in Memphis.”
McEnroe has signed on as a tournament ambassador and will play a pair of exhibition matches Sunday on the event’s opening night, which includes a match between U.S. Open women’s champion Sloane Stephens and Canada’s Genie Bouchard.
The main draw begins Monday with a field that includes U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson, Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey, and former Memphis champion Kei Nishikori. Hyeon Chung was in the field but had to pull out because of the blisters that forced him to retire from his semifinal loss to Federer at the Australian Open.
The year’s first major was a dismal one for the U.S. men, but McEnroe thinks they can bounce back next week. The field also includes young Americans Ryan Harrison – the last champion in Memphis – Steve Johnson, Frances Tiafoe and Jared Donaldson.
“Obviously, the Americans had a pretty horrific event down in Australia, so guys like John Isner and Sam, they’re going to be back more in their element and something to prove there,” McEnroe said. “So hopefully, you have these guys making a run and then you get a couple guys to surprise you and spark some interest in the fans out there as well.”
Perhaps Anderson will rediscover his form in New York, where he reached his first Grand Slam final last September before losing to Nadal. The South African, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11, is coming off a first-round loss in Australia. Querrey and Isner are also in the top 20 but were eliminated quickly in Melbourne before teaming for the Americans’ first-round victory over Serbia in the Davis Cup.
“Kevin and John and Sam all had poor Opens in their eyes, and so for them to get back on track as quickly as possible – they got the Davis Cup win – but this would be nice to be back in the column, get some points and get back on track to try to get themselves to a top-10 ranking,” McEnroe said.
Ripple hopes they’ll tell other players about a positive experience at the tournament. The 28-player singles field is already deeper than last year and he believes it will only grow stronger during what will be at least the next 10 years in New York.
“I think that the guys and the tour itself are going to be really happy and impressed,” Ripple said, “and that is what we’re counting on.”