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· Team WTAworld, Administrator, aka Nibbler
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By Richard Pagliaro - Ericsson is set to pull the plug on its sponsorship of the Ericsson Open. The Swedish telecommunications company reportedly plans to announce today that it is ending its $6 million annual sponsorship of the Tennis Masters Series event at the conclusion of the 2002 tournament.

The 15-year tournament, formerly known as the Lipton, is held at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, Florida. The tournament, which is owned by International Management Group, begins March 20th. IMG is reportedly searching for a new title sponsor for 2003, but that may prove to be a lengthy search. The Australian Open was without a title sponsor for months before announcing it had come to terms with Korean car company Kia to take over as title sponsor.

Widely regarded as the "fifth Grand Slam" because it consistently draws the top men and women in the world, the 12-day tournament is second to the U.S. Open in importance among American tournaments. The Key Biscayne event was the only tournament in the nine-event Tennis Masters Series to have its own title sponsor.

Ericsson has fallen on hard financial times in recent years. The company has reported losses in excess of $350 million for 2001 and apparently is trying to cut costs by relinquishing sponsorship rights to the tournament. Since Swiss marketing giant ISL — which had a 10-year, $1.2 billion deal with the ATP for the marketing rights to its Tennis Masters Series events — filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year, the ATP has struggled to sign sponsors.

"It has nothing to do with the tournament. Ericsson has just had some tough times," said J. Wayne Richmond, executive vice president of the ATP, in an interview with South Florida's Sun-Sentinel. "That tournament is a prime property. I would think they won't have any problems finding a new sponsor. But, obviously, everyone is being more cautious since Sept. 11."

Andre Agassi defeated Jan-Michael Gambill 7-6, 6-1, 6-0 to win the 2001 Ericsson Open men's title and Venus Williams fought off eight championship points to capture the women's crown with a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) triumph over Jennifer Capriati. The victory vaulted Venus to a career-high No. 2 in the WTA Tour rankings.
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