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A day at Dickies: Crowds a topic of conversation; arena a gem of a venue
Iga Swiatek hoped "to see a full house soon" after her win, while Coco Gauff lauded the atmosphere in defeat.
Published Nov 02, 2022
WATCH: Andy Roddick and Lindsay Davenport break down Day 1 at the WTA Finals
FORT WORTH, Texas—It’s usually not a good thing when the crowd becomes a story at a tennis tournament. Be it unruly fans (recall the heckling of Naomi Osaka at this year’s BNP Paribas Open), or jam-packed side courts becoming safety concerns, the goal for most events is to have the focus stay on the players. A lively atmosphere is always appreciated, of course, but the chair umpire says “Thank you,” “Quiet please,” and “The players are ready” for a reason: by the book, the patrons shouldn’t really be part of the match.
After two days of round-robin play at the WTA Finals, tournament organizers probably wished the crowds for the season-ending championships weren’t a story for another reason: a relative lack of fans.
You’ve all seen the photo tweets by now, and you’ve all read the reaction to them by now. This picture was taken during a long changeover. No, it wasn’t. Monday was Halloween. [Editor’s note: as a parent of a 4-year-old, that absolutely matters.] The tournament was moved to Fort Worth on short notice. That doesn’t matter.
Better to see things in person, and better to hear from those actually in attendance. Following her Tuesday win over Daria Kasatkina, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek admitted on court that, “Hopefully we’re going to see a full house soon … I really like taking energy from the crowd.”
In the next singles match, rising American star Coco Gauff took on Caroline Garcia. As expected, more seats were filled, though there were still plenty available.
Asked about a break point she converted in the second set that elicited the loudest reaction of the day, Gauff spoke highly of the atmosphere: “Oh, it was great. You know, I know when I played our doubles wasn’t as many people, but tonight, I think the crowd was so receiving. It definitely helped.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring it out for them today. But I think, you know, the crowd makes a difference in a match. And I’m glad that they were supporting me. And I hope they continue to support me and hopefully I can do better.”
It remains to be seen how attendance will perform over the next six days, which includes a Monday final; on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, two separate ticket sessions will be sold, which seems ambitious at the moment.
One thing is certain, though: you cannot blame the location. Dickies Arena is one of the finest modern sports venues I’ve seen in the U.S., and I’ve been to plenty. Opened in 2019, it’s a sparkling shrine to Fort Worth—the 12th largest city in the country—and things it holds dear: rodeo, Texas Christian University, the local community (it was gifted to the city and is managed by a nonprofit) and a flexibility to host other attractions, including the WTA Finals.
Matt Homan, general manager of Dickies Arena, told me in a phone interview last week that the possibility of bringing in the WTA Finals started percolating in the summer, and accelerated quickly from there.
“We started getting very excited about the opportunity to be to host world-class tennis in our world-class facility,” says Homan. “Dickies Arena has a reputation for hosting national and international sporting events, and we’ve done it on a short-term basis as well. This city’s been used to putting big events together, and it’s a major market.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said the venue was “probably a little big for us,” considering the last-minute decision to move the year-end championships, “but a beautiful arena.”
He’s not wrong. If you find yourself in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, I’d encourage you to pay the arena a visit. Its layout feels akin to a grand hotel, with amenities befitting Fort Worth’s vibrant downtown. But it remains an intimate gathering space that residents are proud of.
“If this is your first time coming to Dickies Arena, you’re going to be blown away,” says Homan. “It’s probably the nicest arena in the United States. We firmly believe that, from top to bottom, from inside and out, from the finishes and the customization you see is unlike any other.”
Homan isn’t wrong; neither is Swiatek. I have no horse in this rodeo, but I’d encourage more people to judge the WTA Finals for yourself—you might be pleasantly surprised.