It was definitely out-of-the-box thinking for a smaller ATP Tour event.
Typically, these tournaments will bring in some legends of the game to add some box-office bite.
But the BB&T Atlanta Open thought differently. It booked American tennis legend Venus Williams and Canadian Genie Bouchard to play an exhibition Sunday night.
The 250-level event, the first American hard-court tournament in the leadup to the US Open, officially begins main-draw action Monday.
The initiative was an instant success; the tickets moved in a hurry, and they even added more seats later, after the March launch.
Atlanta is a big-time tennis market that is vastly underserved by the professional game. As well, the city’s percentage of African-American residents (per the 2010 US Census) was 54 per cent.
Bringing in Venus was smart thinking. And they couldn’t know, back in March, that the 37-year-old would be coming in fresh off the Wimbledon ladies’ singles final.
When the men visited the women …
The only comparable cross-pollination of the men’s and women’s Tours was a misguided idea hatched by the Rogers Cup tournaments in Montreal and Toronto in 2013.
The women draw very good crowds in Toronto, especially by WTA Tour stand-alone standards. But nothing like they do in Montreal. And so the organizers decided it would be a “great” idea to fly in some of the early losers from the men’s event in Montreal to play an exhibition at the women’s event. They also had several men’s legends matches.
Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic volunteered (for $20,000 US and expenses, of course).
Ironically, Venus Williams was a first-round loser at the women’s event in Toronto that year. But she wasn’t offered that same opportunity to go to Montreal and play an exhibition.
Luckily, the idea – which came up late in the game and with rather little fanfare and was the result of a government funding program – quickly was cross-checked going forward.
A full house in Atlanta
On Sunday night in Atlanta, the place was packed for the two women. They might not even get a crowd that good for the men’s final next Sunday.
The two players were premiering some summer kits. Bouchard was wearing the red and blue other Nike athletes were wearing in tournaments this week. Williams’ dress was, to say the least, spectacular.
Bouchard has had a busy week. After her first-round exit at Wimbleldon, she was in Las Vegas training with physical guru Gil Reyes (and hitting tennis balls under the watchful eye of Andre Agassi, too).
And then, she flew to New York City on Monday to do some Nike promotional work with golfer Michelle Wie.
The Canadian returned to Vegas for some more training before she headed to Atlanta for this one-night stand. Bouchard will play two World Team Tennis matches in New York City Thursday and Friday. She then will head to Washington, D.C. on the weekend for next week’s Citi Open.
Williams’s next stop is Philadelphia. She will play World Team Tennis Monday night.
It’s not a significant fact, but Williams defeated Bouchard 6-4, 7-6 (4).