Before we leave the Sony Ericsson Open. I just want acknowledge the man behind it, tournament founder Butch Buccholz. This is a great event - it has been, through its long and rich history. And Buccholz is one of the great men in tennis. You need to read some of the things he said in his traditional post-event presser to get a good idea of why I say that. BTW, a few weeks ago in the California desert, Dennis Ralston told me that Buccholz was one of the most underrated pros of the pre-Open era (Ralston also believes Pancho Gonzalez was the GOAT, denied that recognition by a now defunct system that kept amateurs and pros from competing against each other).
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TMF: Best of 5, All the Time!
Published Apr 04, 2007
While we waited for a few more reporters to join the session, Buccholz told us that he thought the late Lew Hoad was the greatest player of their time, with a couple of interesting caveats: He was injury prone, and not exactly a model of fitness, unless you can consider lifting beer mugs a kind of weight training. According to Buccholz, if Hoad thought he could beat you, he did. If he had any doubt, you did alright - which helps explain why Buccholz led Hoad in their H-2-H. Story: When Rod Laver finally joined the pro ranks, a group of pros, including Buccholz and Hoad, had an intensive, multi-week training session for the upcoming tour. Everyone worked hard, there was no carousing or slacking.
On the night before the tour launched, they had a little party. Hoad got into the beer, and pretty soon Buccholz and Hoad's wife, Jenny, were loading Hoad into a car at 4 AM, in order to get him home. Hoad got up at 7 the next morning and went for a long run on Sydney's famous Bondi beach. Then he had a practice hit and went out and waxed tour newbie Laver - it was the first of 13 consecutive wins for Hoad over Laver. "If you had an Earth vs. Mars match and had to pick one man to represent the planet, I would send Hoad," Buccholz said.
Whether Hoad would have sent Buccholz is something I don't know.
Two weeks earlier at a similar function hosted by Indian Wells founders Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore, I asked the men to pick the winner of their tournament, without waffling. They both waffled. When I asked Buccholz the same question, he didn't waffle: Novak Djokovic. Of course, Willy Canas isn't Rafael Nadal, but there you have it.
Anyway, Buccholz recited some interesting facts about the Sony Ericsson Open:
The tournament drew over 287,000 people, a record. The tournament had seven sold-out sessions, and set attendance records in every session (the SEO now offers grounds passes, so the number may be a but deceiving). The ramped up VIP effort netted a host of celebrities and high-profile athletes, including Dwyane Wade. "I spent a little time with him yesterday," Buccholz said. "He said he loved tennis. He actually said he played. He said,'I'm an athlete, so I think I'm good at everything, but I'm not so sure I could do this'. He's a really good guy."
I didn't want to kill the buzz, so I didn't ask Buccholz the obvious D. Wade question . . .
The tournament issued media credentials for 728 people from 35 countries, broadcast 97 hours of domestic television coverage, with CBS, ESPN and the Tennis Channel doing the heavy lifting. The tournament was seen in over 200 countries. On the charity front, the "shelf value" of the Feed The Children program is over $4 million. Buccholz said, " We fed millions of families here in this community."
Of the heightened show-biz hype and the purple court, Buccholz said:
When Buccholz was finished, Barrett added remarks on similar themes. Then they asked for questions. I jumped in first, asking: "On the purple court, I'm not sure about this, but I believe the ATP has the standard blue court, which is part of their Masters Series approach other than on clay courts, Is that an issue you had to deal with, or can you just unilaterally change the court color?"
Buccholz replied, "We went to the ATP and WTA and they signed off on it, so it wasn't an issue. It was, again, we wanted to get the Sony Ericsson purple, and it worked."
I'm not sure who asked the next question: "There's been a lot of confusion this past fortnight about whether or not the final was going to be a best of five sets. Can you just tell us what actually happened behind the scenes so that we have a best-of-five final today?"
A follow-up confirmed that the reduction to best-of-three in Masters Series events was a reaction to last year's magnificent Rome final, which left Federer and Rafael Nadal so spent that they both pulled out of Hamburg, which began the following day. As Buccholz said, "It's not a tournament issue, it's a calendar issue."
One of the more intriguing stories of the week was that finalist Willy Canas complained publicly about being denied a wild card into the event. Karen Crouse of the New York Times wondered if this was some sort of punishment for Canas having served a suspension for a (contested) doping violation. Adam Barrett took over to field that one.
Karen followed up: "So it had absolutely nothing to do with the circumstances that he's dealt with the last two years?"
Buccholz added: "Plus the whole Latin piece. That sells a lot of tickets."
FYI, Michelle Kaufmann of the Miami Herald told me that she went to Barrett's office and he actually produced the paperwork backing up his version of those events.
Next, Buccholz was asked about the recent lawsuit filed by the Hamburg tournament, which disputes the ATP's right to strip it of Masters Series status.
I had another question for Buccholz: "In line with your thoughts on the growth of the game, one of the things, looking at the Roadmap the WTA released, it seems that with the increasing parity of the women's game and the men's game, especially with the combined events happening, wouldn't it be better for the game if the women and men had an identical system, you know, a Masters Series plus Grand Slams type system, even if the dates and places are different? That they fundamentally they played the same way?
I followed up: "What's the stumbling block to that? It's not rocket science."
My guess is it's probably money. Again, for the issue of we're going to combined events in 2009, you're going to be talking about equal prize money to the tune of $8 to $9 million, and the Masters Series events are in that range, will be in that range.
But the women's Tier 1 prize money isn't anywhere near that. So for example, Charlie Pasarell is going to have to come up with a heck of a lot more money from the women's side. I was at a dinner the other night with the WTA, and people were saying, you know, you guys (WTA) are going to have to help subsidize that because there's a big difference in what the men's prize money is on the Masters Series and the women's prize money on Tier 1, and you're going to have to help get that up and just going to have to subsidize it (something that that ATP already does for men's events) if you want equal prize money, and it should be equal prize money.
Jim Martz of Florida Tennis asked: "Have you ever considered or would you consider having a veterans' event with people like the Chrisses and Martinas and Jim Couriers of the world?"
Buccholz's reply was interesting and counter-intuitive:
Well, that's it for Miami, until next year. Thanks, Butch!