With the return of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, Atlanta will be the first stop on the Olympus U.S. Open Series. I spoke with Bill Oakes, the event’s tournament director, about what is in store for fans and why it took so long for pro tennis to return to the capital of the South.
ATN: You just announced on your site that John Isner, James Blake and Robby Ginepri have committed to the event. When will you know the rest of the field and are there any “wish list” players you are still waiting to hear from?
OAKES: Any tournament in the world will want to have as many of the top players as they can get. But as you are familiar with Indianapolis and all the troubles they had, it’s unlikely we’ll get the current top five players to appear. After that, we’re working with pretty much every other player. Some are waiting to see what happens with Davis Cup. I’ll be down in Miami to meet with players and agents to talk with them about availability. Our goal is to have five of the top 20 players and we think that would be a huge success for our event. But our event is not just the players. Since it’s the USTA that owns this event, we plan to do a lot of promotional events and getting the public involved with activities with the professional players.
ATN: It’s been almost ten years since Atlanta had a professional tennis event. Are you surprised it’s taken this long or do you think the timing is right?
OAKES: We’ve been the bridesmaid a number of times and close a few occasions for ATP events that are now run in other cities but the best thing that ever happened is that we got the week we did since we are part of the Olympus U.S. Open Series. The support we are getting from Olympus and the USTA is phenomenal. And I would also say absence makes the heart grow fonder and having the event go away for a few years. I get phone calls daily from people who say, “Oh it’s great that the event is coming back, look forward to attending.” I think it’s the right time and the right week and the right tournament to come back to Atlanta.
ATN: Aside from the tennis taking place at the Atlanta Athletic Club, what other activities do you plan to offer attendees during the week?
OAKES: We are still working on a lot of things but the good thing about Atlanta is that it’s the No. 1 recreational tennis market in the U.S., if not the world. We have as many USTA members here as there are in Southern California. So we’re going to be doing things like having people be able to play in league matches during the tournament. And I’m looking forward to announcing a few more initiatives that will be unique for those in Atlanta to take advantage of. Our viewpoint is to make it more than just the tennis and to make it more of an experience for our fans here. The tennis fans in Atlanta are very savvy. The last year we had the event here in 2001, which was Andy Roddick’s first ATP title, we drew 74,000 people. In terms of the Slams and the what you would call Masters events now, only two events outdrew Atlanta that year. So our expectations are we will have great support from our fans.
ATN: With Birmingham, Alabama hosting the upcoming Fed Cup semifinal, the recent event in Memphis and now your event, do you see the South gaining more recognition for being able to host world-class tennis and do you see that trend continuing?
OAKES: I really do. The Memphis event and the Charleston event with the Family Circle Cup has always done well. For the first round tie for the Davis Cup last year, we set an attendance record in the U.S. And a number of exhibitions that take place in November and December have done extremely well. The USTA Southern section is by far the largest of the sections with 25% of the membership and over a third of the recreational players and that passion is reflected not only in the play but the attending of events and that makes a difference because those who play are more likely to go watch.
ATN: For casual fans or players of the game who can’t make up their minds about attending the Atlanta event, what would you say to them?
OAKES: Aside from having a good strong field if you are from the southeastern U.S. you have not had the opportunity to attend an Olympus U.S. Open Series event with Hawk-Eye in an intimate setting. Since we’ll be seating about 6,000, you’ll be able to experience Hawk-Eye and be right next to the court and not separated by a severe distance like you are if you attend the U.S. Open or larger events. It’s an easy event to attend because parking is across the street so no buses to ride. It’s an intimate setting and we will offer a lot of exciting things for the consumer.
The Atlanta Tennis Championships will take place July 19-25, 2010 at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia. For more information about the Atlanta Tennis Championships, click here.