MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Standing on the field at the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, Serena Williams used a two-hand grip to stick her shovel in the dirt, flashed a smile and flicked a forehand.
When she comes back, she plans to be holding a racket.
On the eve of the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, the tournament held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday at its future site — the Dolphins’ stadium. The tournament will move there in 2019, and the draw is expected to include Williams, an eight-time champion who now has a financial stake because she owns a small share of the Dolphins.
“She’ll probably be the first person to win a tennis tournament she owns,” Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross said with a laugh.
Ross overcame much skepticism to swing a deal for the move. The tournament has been held since 1987 on Key Biscayne, but a 2015 appeals court decision prevented upgrades to the complex there, raising speculation the Miami Open might leave South Florida, with potential sites ranging from South America to China.
Ross reached out to Mark Shapiro, co-president of IMG, which owns the tournament, and proposed moving it 18 miles north to the Dolphins’ home.
“Mark thought I was crazy — ‘What do you mean? It’s a football stadium?'” Ross said. “Most people when I spoke to them about the idea said, ‘It’s crazy. It’s not going to happen.” But I think we’re going to create one of the truly great sports venues in the world. And this is going to be the greatest tennis tournament in the world.”
Williams nodded as Ross spoke.
“I thought Steve was crazy too, for the record,” Williams said. “But he’s a visionary and always thinking out of the box, and it’s such a great idea. We want this to be the best tournament ever.”
Ross spent $500 million on recent stadium renovations, including a canopy, and now the backhoes and front-end loaders have returned. While the ceremonial groundbreaking was Monday, work began weeks ago to construct outer courts and a spectator plaza in the parking lot adjacent to the stadium.
Center court will be in the stadium, with the net over the 50-yard line. Most of the seats will be temporary to create a 13,800-seat showcase court in a building that can hold 65,000. Fabric screens will help hide unused seats.
Ross swears it will work. And others attending the ceremony insisted the new complex represents progress for the tournament, even if the spectacular drive over Biscayne Bay to the island of Key Biscayne can’t be replicated in a suburban setting.
“We’re talking about a footprint here that is really unimaginable, filled with music and art and culinary attractions and culture for families,” Shapiro said. “It will be much, much more than just tennis. Every aspect of the tournament will be improved.”
New tournament director James Blake agreed.
“We’ll have more practice courts, better facilities, better locker rooms, cutting edge video screens, more parking,” Blake said. “Every single aspect is going to be an upgrade.”
Williams, along with the other pros, will play on Key Biscayne for a final time beginning with her first-round match Wednesday. She grew up 90 minutes to the north in Palm Beach Gardens, attended the tournament as a youngster and has long considered it her hometown event.
“When I heard they were going to move it, it literally broke my heart,” she said. “I’m so happy this tournament is still going to be in Miami.”
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