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Keep dreaming, South America, you won’t (ever?) get another ATP 500

Carlos Alcaraz fue el campeón del Argentina Open 2023
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A tale in world tennis that is simple to understand.

Doha, Dallas and Munich, or in other words: Qatar, United States and Germany. Even clearer: Middle East, North America and Europe. Plain and simple: the eternal tradition of tennis mixed with the interest of the Arab world to be more and more relevant. History, money and power. Nothing new under the sun.

The ATP made official this Wednesday that these three tournaments will be the 250 tournaments that from 2025 will be upgraded to become ATP 500, the prelude to the Masters 1000. Neither Buenos Aires nor Santiago de Chile qualified for the upgrade. Were they really considered?

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Diego Schwartzman did not like the announcement: “Terrible decision from ATP… to continue promoting countries and swings that already have all kinds of tournaments and facilities. And not so to choose a tour and region of the world that has so much history in tennis and that only has four tournaments in the year. Buenos Aires made a great effort”, the Argentine tennis player, former world No. 8, wrote on his Twitter account.

 

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The Argentina Open is owned by the agency Tennium, which reached an agreement with the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club to allow the continuity of the event for at least 10 more years. Thus, at the end of July, renovations to the infrastructure of the venue began, which give the Argentineans objective arguments to apply for the next category.

Kristoff Puelinckx, Tennium’s CEO, told CLAY in February of this year that Buenos Aires was rowing for the upgrade: “It’s no a secret that we want a ATP 500 in Buenos Aires, the market is there for it, it’s a historic tennis country, with a lot of fans. The fans in Argentina are different from any other country, it is a much more emotional crowd, especially when Argentines play or with a top player like Carlos Alcaraz. The people go crazy. In other countries it is more calm, rational, temperate. It will take time to become a 500”.

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With all the economic difficulties that Argentina is going through today, its tennis market, its improvements in infrastructure and the dimension of Buenos Aires as a city are solid demonstrations that would be worth an upgrade. And yet, the Argentines will have to wait, although in February 2024 they will have two Grand Slam champions like Alcaraz and Stanislas Wawrinka.

Court Central Guillermo Vilas in Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club

It is a race that is run at a disadvantage. The strong global competition, the uncomfortable tournament scheduling and the relative marginality of the South American tour for the high powers of tennis lead to a simple analysis: it is a nonsense to think that South America would have another ATP 500. Difficult for the Argentine capital, much more for its neighbors on the other side of the Andes.

“We told the ATP that Chile would love to have a ATP 500,” said Catalina Fillol, director of the Chile Open, when in 2022 she began the process of applying for the promotion. Increasing the capacity of the main court to 5,000 spectators and a growth in prize money were the main requirements. Fillol was hopeful and communicated it this way: “We have the will, the muscle and the project. We are hopeful that it will happen and if not, we will still try to be aesthetically a 500″.

The South American summer tour is attractive and necessary: there is tradition, culture and a different offer for athletes and fans. The tour refreshes the first part of the year and always delivers things that capture the attention of global tennis. Still, it is far from being a highlight of the year.

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In that sense, Latin America has somewhat regressed. Two decades ago, North American Butch Buchholz, creator of the Key Biscayne tournament, dreamed of creating a Key Biscayne in Tigre, north of Buenos Aires. Today no one imagines a Masters 1000 in South America.

Not to mention the situation of the Chilean event, which today has the worst schedule of the entire tour: it is the only 250 that shares a week with two other 500 (Acapulco and Dubai, both hard courts). The final stop in a clay swing sandwiched between the Australian Open and Indian Wells, two of the biggest hard court events of the season.

ATP 500
Panoramic view of the centre court of the ATP 250 in Santiago de Chile

The “dream 500” in Chile is an old story with little support and that would have implied making unthinkable changes in the calendar due to the impossibility of three championships of that category simultaneously. In addition, the public usually fills the stadium only when there are Chileans or stars of massive appeal (as was the case of Rafael Nadal in 2013). Another obstacle: the only stadium that Chile has is the recently restored for the Pan Amercian Games Anita Lizana Centre Court at the Estadio Nacional. Although impeccable and with world class quality, stays 1,500 seats short for the ATP requirement.

South America should not be fooled. The dream of having another ATP 500 is just that, a wish far from reality, without any support in some cases. The ATP said it once again: in this circus, those from the North Hemisphere matter more.

[ CLAY is read for free. But if you can, please make a contribution here so we can keep writting great #TennisTales around the world. It’s very easy and quick – thank you! ]

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