Q & A with tournament director Steve Simon
The tournament director of the Pacific Life Open sat down with The Desert Sun to answer questions about this year's event and its future, particularly with its place in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's "Roadmap to 2009," where the tour is looking to reorganize.
Q. No Lindsay Davenport this year. What has she meant to this event and what do you lose without that Southern California product.
A. We'll miss Lindsay, there's no way around it. She's a Southern California girl and she's done well here throughout the years. Lindsay's special to us because we've known her since she was a junior. We have a fondness and a special place in our hearts for Lindsay. We're going to miss her. On the other side, we're all excited for her. She's mentioned before that she was looking forward to having a family. She's going through that exciting time, where they're expecting their child in June. We wish them nothing but the best. Lindsay said she wasn't officially retiring. Hopefully, she decides she wants to play tennis again. If she does, we would like to have her here.
About the women's field, last year, Charlie (Pasarell, the tournament CEO) and Ray (the tournament president) expressed some disappointment in the women's field. In some respects, this field isn't as deep in the past.
Our goal with this event, from day one and it will continue to be, it will be as big of an event and important of an event as it can be. We're not shy. We're working hard to make it a Grand Slam event. We're now the most attended event outside the four Grand Slams. We should surpass 300,000 people this year. With this type of event, with this type of investment we put in the event and the facility, with the unprecedented ownership team we've put together, we want and we expect to get tremendous fields. Our sanctions calls for us to have six of the top-10 players in the world. This year, we currently have at least six of the top-10 through the last rankings. The men, we have mandatory participation. As part of the new roadmap for 2009, we are hoping to be able to obtain that sanction upgrade so we can have the same type of field we have on the men's side. We have a great field, but we would still like to see a strong woman's field, no question about it.
As far as the WTA, what kind of feedback have you gotten about this tournament's place in the roadmap?
The feedback we have received, we're an integral part of the roadmap. I think they see us as one of the major flagships of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. We're one of the flagship events. I think we have a good opportunity to upgrade our sanction and become a mandatory event. It's something we're working very hard with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. I hope we get there with them. It's a good partnership.
What has it been like with the new ownership that includes Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and Pete Sampras?
It's been great having Pete, Billie Jean and Chris. It's terrific. But it's also the rest of the ownership group. It goes beyond them. You already saw this year, the beginning of the power of the group and the investments. We're making the investment this year into video with instant replay and video walls into the site. You see increased advertising and promotions around the event as a result of our partners. As an example, we had a full special section in Tennis Magazine this year. So we're beginning to see some of the results from there. I think the general public will see more fruits from these investments in 2008 and 2009. We're investing in programs that will be at those events. I'm very excited about the partnership, I'm excited about the enthusiasm and support they are bringing to the event. I think the future is very, very bright and very exciting for what we'll bring here.
The Pacific Life Open has renewed its contract as the title sponsor for one year. So after this tournament, that contract will be up again. What is the future with the tournament and Pacific Life?
We agreed after we did our one-year extension to sit down following the tournament and we'll present what our vision will be for this tournament for the next several years to them. Shortly after that meeting, we'll make a decision jointly for our future.
As far as the WTA's Roadmap, how much of a factor will that be in your negotiations with Pacific Life?
It plays a factor as far as what will this event be in 2009 going forward. We know and feel strongly this event will continue to be a flagship event for tennis outside the Grand Slams. I think that will only enhance our goals. It's only going to be a positive.
Is there a minimum to the years that will make sense?
You can say, but who knows. It's a negotiation at that time. It depends on who it is. If it's a Pacific Life, you can extend it one more year. If it's someone else, you wouldn't do it unless it was a long-term deal.
So it could be another one-year extension with Pacific Life?
Sure. Absolutely. We've done it before. It's a different thing to do it with a partner you've been together with for a few years than a new partner coming in.
On the court, have you ever seen a guy dominate one tournament like Roger has?
If you look at it, there have been tournaments that players have dominated. As you said, Pete at Wimbledon did. Steffi dominated a few slams in her days. I'm sure Rod Laver dominated a few tournaments, Tilden, Margaret Court. I'm sure they've all had their runs. Roger's run is not just what he's done in one tournament, but the consistency he's shown. He's broken Jimmy Connors and that's quite a record. What has he won the last two years, 24 tournaments? That's what's unique. When was the last time you saw that kind of dominance? You haven't seen it on the men's side. On the women, maybe Steffi during her heyday, she might have run and won that many tournaments.
What's your thought on American tennis? Last year, you had Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport, and they've both retired. From your perspective as a tournament director and as a fan, what is the state of American tennis?
As a fan, the U.S. hasn't dominated the rankings as they did. I can look at that a couple of ways. It could show the growth of tennis around the world. The U.S. still has great players, like Andy, James, Venus and Serena. When all of them are healthy, they're some of the best players in the world. I don't know where it's going to come from now. I would certainly like to see more U.S. kids up there. But it's a lot more competitive, a lot tougher to dominate. ... I think it's a harder one for the women. After Serena and Venus, where's that next young kid coming from? Where's that pack of U.S. kids. On the guys, you have Andy and James, and then you have a whole pack.