The San Diego Open has been a success so far with packed crowds, a strong field, and excellent tennis at the Barnes Tennis Center. The tournament only has a one year license but has absolutely proved it deserves a spot on tour. San Diego has some of the best weather in the country and plenty of tennis fans, as shown by great crowds in the 2,000-seat stadium throughout the tournament. While the strong field was helped by its spot on the calendar preceding the Indian Wells Masters, there will be plenty of reasons to come to San Diego in the future. Hopefully the ATP will make it a tour stop for years to come.
Why the San Diego Open Deserves to be a Tour Stop
Southern California, along with the state of Florida, is one of the top areas of the United States for producing tennis players. It also serves as a hub for professional players. Third-ranked American Taylor Fritz is from just north of the city, and future star Brandon Nakashima is from San Diego. Both of them competed in their new hometown tournament this year. San Diego is also the eighth-most populous city in the United States and had no problem packing the stadium all week. The great year-round weather is also a draw for both fans and players.
Another reason the new San Diego Open should stay is its move to Barnes Tennis Center this year. Recent hosts of the WTA San Diego event included upscale resorts such as the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California and the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. Both venues brought excellent facilities, but added to the “exclusive” reputation of the sport that it should be trying to get rid of. The Barnes Tennis Center has no such issues.
It is a public tennis center open to anyone with discounts for members. It is owned and operated by the nonprofit Youth Tennis San Diego. Juniors under 18 get priority on the courts, helping to grow the game for the next generation, and donations to the nonprofit help fund after-school clinics and scholarships for the 60% of participants in their junior tennis programs that otherwise cannot afford participation. This should be celebrated and supported in tennis, which has struggled against other American sports for popularity and is often seen as elitist. Both showcasing Barnes Tennis Center at the tournament and helping to fund it with tournament fees should be large reasons for the ATP to continue the event.
Timing on the Schedule
The tournament will need a new slot in the schedule if it continues next year with Indian Wells being moved back to its traditional mid-March spot. Based on the 2019 calendar, there is no room directly leading up to Indian Wells with the ATP 500 event in Acapulco, Mexico traditionally the lead-up tournament. This could be fixed by moving the new Dallas tournament and Delray Beach tournaments up one week, which there is space for, slotting San Diego in between Delray and Acapulco. The proximity of San Diego, Acapulco, and Indian Wells would make for easy travel for players participating in multiple events. After Miami, the tour shifts to clay primarily in Europe, so this would be the only solution to play San Diego in the first half of the year.
It would be a challenge to play the event before the US Open, as a majority of tournaments leading up to the year’s final Major are on the east coast of the United States and Canada. This would make travel difficult and likely have a negative impact to the strength of the field. There is space on the calendar right after the US Open that could draw in American players wanting to play closer to home before the European hard court season. This would be impacted by the Laver Cup, but since only 12 players participate, there could still be a strong field, especially for a 250 event. The final option would be in late October/early November as the season wraps up, where players could have a chance to earn extra points before the year’s end, and San Diego has an advantage of being one of few places where an outdoor event could be played that time of year.
There is not a completely ideal spot for the San Diego Open in the calendar without another tournament dropping out, but it should be placed in one of the spots listed above, allowing for the event to grow from year-to-year and potentially receive a better spot if another tournament were to fold.
Final Reasons to Return to San Diego
Of the 11 tour-level ATP events held in 2019 on the traditional calendar, just two of those (Indian Wells and Houston) were held outside of the Eastern Time Zone. Growing tennis nationwide should be a priority for the USTA and tennis in general to increase interest from American fans, especially considering the popularity of the sport on the west coast. While the Dallas event coming in 2022 helps spread events out some, Southern California deserves more than one ATP event. It also gives a tournament to a major city in California. While fans from all over travel to Indian Wells, it is about 120 miles from both San Diego and Los Angeles. Having an event in a major city both makes it easier for fans to attend and find places to stay, and opens up the potential for more local casual fans to see an event.
There are numerous reasons the tour should return to San Diego, and while the business end is more complicated and beyond the scope of this article, hopefully the ATP renews the license for next year and future years. The Barnes Tennis Center is a great location for the tour to showcase and crowds proved that there is a strong market in the area. While it is a bit discouraging with the ATP planning to focus on growing and extending dates for several Masters events, many 250s struggle to make money and San Diego seems to be poised to be in a good position. The ATP tends to release its calendar by quarter so there is plenty of time for negotiations and fans will eventually see if the tournament will continue long term.
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