The Miami Open is back and in colossal fashion.
After 32 years on Key Biscayne, the tournament that is the second big event post-Australian Open has migrated northwest to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where the Miami Dolphins team plays.
Tennis greats Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati began their careers in Miami. Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi each won the men’s title six times, while Serena Williams, who lives in South Florida, has captured the women’s championship eight times. The event is the home tournament for many players who reside in Florida.
Miami Open’s woman’s single defending champion Sloane Stephens who is from Plantation, Florida interestingly shared she has never stepped foot in Hard Rock Stadium, moreover never attended an actual football game in her life.
“I have never been to an NFL game,” Stephens stated. “I did not even know where this place was; I had no clue. This is how much I know where it was, I drove here this morning and drove to the Hard Rock Hotel.”
The new location of Hard Rock features 30 total courts, nine more than at Crandon Park, including double the number of practice courts. A permanent grandstand has been built, and the players benefit from expanded dining, gym and locker room facilities. Outside the stadium, a 90-foot-by-40-foot video screen is installed, allowing fans to relax and dine in the plaza while still catching the on-court action outside in a Miami oasis nearly in the parking lot of Hard Rock.
Stephens etched her name in history becoming the final women’s champion to play at Crandon Park Tennis Center on the Key Biscayne Island after beating Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (5), 6-1, improving to 6-0 all-time in championship matches.
“I have been going there since I was 14 years old,” Stephens said. “Sad times, I am going to miss it. Hopefully, there will be more good tennis played here.”
Stephens defeated three top 10 players at last year’s event, including No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza and No. 10 Angelique Kerber in the fourth round and quarterfinals, and No. 5 Jeļena Ostapenko in the final. With this performance, she also cracked the top 10 for the first time.
“There is a lot of walking which I don’t love,” Stephens stated. “This place is beautiful; they have done a great job; it is much bigger than what we are used to anywhere in the world.”
Over $500 million was spent in additions and renovations to transform Hard Rock to accommodate this year’s tournament. Led by Miami Dolphins and Stadium owner Stephen Ross, the vision was that the new infrastructure would enhance the visitor experience with additional food and entertainment options. The centerpiece of the tournament will be the 14,000-seat stadium court within the stadium designed for intimacy and improved fan experience — moreover a larger parking area.
There is the transition to the new venue; however Stephens has valuable transitioning to adjust to with an arduous tennis tour ahead of her.
With the defense of her Miami Open ahead of her now, ranked No.4 in the world, Stephens shared with reporters she’s going through a transition phase after a disappointing 6-3, 6-0 loss to Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open.
“Everything is good; obviously tennis is a very long roller coaster you can not get off of,” Stephen said. “Taking it day by day, excited to be playing, happy, everything is good. I am trying to make the most of it and play as best as I can.”
Stephens has been without a full-time head coach since suspending her relationship with Kamau Murray, who has gone on to take a position with Monica Puig. U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi served as Stephens’ designated on-court coach in Indian Wells, and Stephens said she does not want to rush her hiring decision, as she remains with Rinaldi for the Miami Open.
“I am feeling it out, looking, feeling it out, trying to see a good fit,” Stephens said. “I don’t even know what I am looking for; I want to find a good connection, someone that I get along with. You don’t have to be the best coach in the world; I have to get along with you.”
So far so good, the 4th seed only needed 70 minutes to dismiss Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-3 for the sixth win of what has been roller-coaster season so far.
“Every first round is hard especially when you are defending a title; it is never easy,” Stephens said. “I think I played well against someone who is tricky to play. in general, no first round is ever easy.”
Coincidently, Stephens was lost driving to the new tennis venue on the day of her birthday. March 20th was the date scheduled kicking off media day events along with player availability in schedule time slots. In preparation of her arrival a beautiful cake created by Shayla Barnes-Holloway of Buttercreamery Sweets Boutique.
The cake was a work of art. A three-tier two-foot tall cake, the base foundation white, the center of the cake green with Sloane cursively spelled out vertically at an angle in white, topped off with a two inch round fluorescent tennis ball.
The search for a possible new tennis coach. And a new birthday to kick off the defending a tournament title at new tennis venue. There were no candles on the cake; however, Stephens is ridding the tennis roller coaster smiling with hopes of winning as the vital ingredient for a sweet season, not a sour one.