World-class tennis has returned to the Bronx for free! Many of the top-ranked WTA players competed in mid-August at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis and Learning. Fans and players enjoyed a luxurious experience inside Cary Leeds’ 12,000 square foot, 26.5 million dollar state of the art facility, and embraced the two intimate stadium courts on grounds.
Local kids involved in the variety of tennis and educational programs that Cary Leeds has to offer had the unique experience of being ball kids for the tournament. I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer and the experience was exhilarating. Standing up close to the action and observing the ball spins and footwork of the players was both educational and enjoyable. Being a ball boy is quite tiring and involves tremendous focus. A ball kid must be aware at all times of the location of all six balls on the court, the match score and the ball and towel preferences of each player.
Also, a ball kid has to have quick reflexes and stand completely still in-between points. Kids could only do one-hour shifts at a time because of the strain. While the weather got steamy at times, all the kids had a blast being up close to some of their favorite players and role models. The highlight of the week for the ball kids and young junior players was the chance to meet and hit with ATP and WTA stars Nick Kyrgios and Eugenie Bouchard. Both fan-favorites signed autographs and took pictures with kids before participating in drills and tennis games.
Joe Ceriello, Chief Marketing Officer for New York Junior Tennis & Learning and the Bronx Open’s Tournament Director, noted that the Cary Leeds Center received national and international exposure in the media on Tennis Channel and other platforms. Ceriello was most proud of the fact that the players outwardly expressed their positive views on the facility and tournament and loved being in New York a week early.
Admission to the Bronx Open was free, and attendance notably increased throughout the week. Tennis is one of the few sports where the majority of play occurs during the week, making it problematic to fill seats for all non-grand slam events. Hopefully, next year more outreach to the local community will happen, resulting in more fans. However, for the finals played on Saturday, upwards of 1,000 fans were packed into Victor Kiam Stadium for the championship match and watched the Polish qualifier Magda Linette edge past Camila Giorgi in a tight three-set match.
The Bronx Open was the last WTA event on the calendar prior the US Open, and the best female tennis players in the world signed up to compete for the title and gain some last-minute confidence. Unfortunately, many of the top seeds, such as Petra Kvitova, Johanna Konta, Maria Sakkari and Danielle Collins all withdrew from the tournament due to minor injuries that they wanted to heal before the last slam of the year. Still, the highest quality of tennis was on display for the Bronx fans. The top five seeds were all ranked inside the top 50 on the WTA Tour, and former top ten players such as Bouchard, Sam Stosur, Coco Vandeweghe, and Andrea Petkovic competed in the draw.
Professional tennis was previously hosted at Crotona Park in the Bronx from 1996-2012 for the Emblem Health Open. This semi-pro event was part of the $50K ITF Women’s Circuit. NYJTL initially planned to host a $100k event in 2019 at its flagship home at the Cary Leeds Tennis Center, but the WTA approached NYJTL for a possible upgrade after an opportunity presented itself on the calendar.
The New Haven Open, a $700K WTA tournament scheduled a week before the US Open, was bought by China and NYJTL happily agreed to replace the tournament with a $250K tournament that awarded 280 WTA ranking points. Going forward, if the Cary Leeds Center wishes to host the tournament it will have to rely heavily on outside sponsors. This year the WTA and the USTA financially supported the event but that will not be the case for future tournaments. If NYJTL can draw enough sponsors to host the event next year, we can look forward to the tournament’s return to the beautiful Cary Leeds Center in August 2020.
Robbie Werdiger is a sophomore at Georgetown University. A former standout at Horace Mann High School, Werdiger has competed on the national junior stage and has achieved USTA rankings of top 25 in the eastern section in numerous age groups. Additionally, Robbie has represented team USA at the world Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017, the third largest international sporting event in the world.