Cup crowds hit new Charleston record
Cup crowds hit new Charleston record
BY JEFF HARTSELL
The Post and Courier
After all that -- the rain, the mud, the withdrawals and upsets, even an on-court soap opera of sorts -- the Family Circle Cup had one of the best weeks in its 32-year history.
The tournament set an attendance record for its four years in Charleston, with 91,410 fans attending at the Family Circle Tennis Center on Daniel
Island. And it crowned a glamorous, popular champion Sunday in Venus Williams, who won for the first time in 14 months.
"There was an incredible energy starting last Saturday and it went all the way through," said Frankie Whelan, executive director of the Family Circle Cup. "People were happy, upbeat, excited. This tournament has really established itself as a major event here in Charleston."
The attendance cracked the 90,000 mark for the first time since the FCC moved to Daniel Island from Hilton Head in 2001, topping the previous Charleston high of 89,325 in 2002. Cold weather plagued the tournament in 2001, when 80,625 attended, and two night matches were rained out last year, holding attendance to 81,389. The FCC's all-time attendance record is 98,000, set in 1999 when Anna Kournikova made the finals in Hilton Head.
It was a wild week that saw the withdrawal of world No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne, second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo (before the tournament) and of Serena Williams, perhaps the top draw in women's tennis. After playing one match, Serena withdrew with a sore knee on Thursday, just before Jennifer Capriati, another fan favorite, was upset in the third round. In the semifinals, Patty Schnyder made news by snubbing a postmatch handshake with winner Conchita Martinez.
"Obviously, there have been some unforeseen circumstances, but that's life," Venus Williams said during the week. "You always have to be ready with plan B, C and D."
The Family Circle Cup's Plan A is to treat the players well, and the FCC is fast gaining a reputation among the players as a tournament that does things right. As an independent tournament, the FCC is able to do whatever it likes in the perks department, Whelan said.
Among those perks -- presents, a Puppy Park and Porsches, the courtesy cars sponsored by the WTA Tour's North American regional sponsor.
"Well, it's a great week," said Jelena Kostanic, the 22-year-old Croatian who was a surprise semifinalist this week. "I'm really enjoying it here, from small things to big things like tennis going well, and getting presents every day."
What kind of presents?
Venus reeled off her list -- a sapphire bracelet, two purses, a portable DVD player, a watch, a basket of body lotions.
"I like the tournament because I like it," Venus said. "Even if they gave me gifts, if I didn't like the event, I wouldn't come back. I like it here because it's a great place."
Martina's Puppy Park, an on-site facility where players can keep their pets during the week, is of course named for tennis great Martina Navratilova, a noted dog lover.
"Puppy Park has its advantages for me, because I can have more dogs with me and they can have a great time while they are here during the day," she said. "And then I bring them home, and they are exhausted and go straight to sleep. It's sort of like kindergarten for kids. If you can get them exhausted, that's great."
Navratilova said that's just one way the Family Circle Cup "spoils" the players.
"The people really put in a lot of work," she said. "The volunteers and all the people around the tournament really make sure that the players are well taken care of. They spoil us rotten here. If we could take this tournament and have it every week, that would be nice."
Serena Williams, who recruited Venus to come to Charleston, has proven to be one of the FCC's best ambassadors.
"You know, every year I come here I enjoy it more and more," said Serena, who watched her sister win her 30th singles title Sunday.
And it sounds like the FCC could see a lot of both Williams sisters in the years to come.
"I'm coming back," Venus said Sunday.