Entrepreneur wants to turn Madrid into fifth tennis Grand Slam
By Sebastian Fest
Madrid (dpa) - It was only last month that Ion Tiriac found out Madrid will host a tournament with the best male and female tennis players in the world in 2009.
However, the Romanian is the most powerful businessman in world tennis, and he already has another goal, a gigantic plan: He wants to create a fifth Grand Slam in the Spanish capital.
"I see for the future, with all due respect for Grand Slams, that you have to have the chance to compete. In prizes, in quality, in infrastructure... In everything," Tiriac told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in an interview in Madrid.
The plan is revolutionary. For as long as tennis has been tennis there have been four Grand Slam tournaments, and they are played in London, Paris, New York and Melbourne.
Nobody ever thought it possible to add another city to that list, nobody ever wanted to create tournaments that gave out as much money and points as those four greats.
But that is precisely Tiriac's idea. He thinks sport is different, he thinks the world has changed and you have to change the parametres.
He talks and talks, and praises himself: "In five years I turned Madrid into one of the greatest social events there is in Europe."
Sick of the rain at Wimbledon, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone - Tiriac recalls - once asked him whether it would be possible to pay organizers 50 million pounds (102 million dollars) to take over control and manage the traditional tournament a different way.
At that time, Wimbledon did not even dream of the roof its centre court is set to have from 2009.
To argue why Madrid could host a Grand Slam, the Romanian, 68, lists three points. The first is that tennis should allow free competition.
"What I am still not satisfied about is the fact that they do not let tournaments compete. I want to compete. Tomorrow I go and ask how much are prizes at Roland Garros. Fifteen million? I go and put down 15 million, but I want to be at the points level of Roland Garros, not at the level of a '1,000.' Let me compete! But the Grand Slams will not let me compete. And neither will the ATP."
The second point of this former tennis player, former coach, former manager, former Romanian Olympic Committee chairman, businessman and banker is that Grand Slam tournaments have reached their limits.
"Unfortunately I don't think that (French President Nicolas)Sarkozy is going to let them build in the Bois de Boulogne to expand, because they already took a lot from the woods. And also they no longer have the (Olympic) Games, that the English took," Tiriac describes the challenges for Roland Garros.
London too faces obstacles.
"You cannot allow that, when you have 200 countries watching on television, the explanation is 'this is London when it rains.' Sport is no longer what is was, it is different from 20 years ago."
And Madrid is the city that according to Tiriac, incarnates more than any other this "new sport," the city that can go beyond the limits of Paris and London. The Magic Box, the fantastic tennis complex that French architect Dominique Perrault designed in the Spanish capital, is his third point.
"Madrid has a very great future, and it is going to have facilities like no other tournament. There is no other which can close three courts in five minutes and keep playing despite the rain," Tiriac stresses.
He notes he has ruled out the Asian option that he contemplated a couple of years ago.
"I do not need to move Madrid. It is likely that in Shanghai I could have made money, a lot of it. But I am lucky enough not to be about to starve to death," he says.