Game, Set And Match: U.S. Tennis Tournaments Move Abroad

Play associated audio

Throughout most of its 86 years, Los Angeles' premier tennis tournament attracted the biggest names in the game. But over the years, stars stopped coming, and so did fans.

Now the Farmers Classic, which has been in L.A. since 1927, is headed to Bogota after it was bought by a Colombian sports marketing and entertainment company.

"There's a big hole in my heart. And believe me, this is something we didn't see coming, I'll be honest," says Bob Kramer, longtime tournament director of the Farmers Classic.

He admits that the event has been losing millions the past few years, but blames the recession and crowded summer tennis table. There were only a dozen Association of Tennis Professionals tournaments — the top men's event — played in the U.S. in 2012, which is about a third as many as there were in the '80s.

The biggest challenge, Kramer says, has been attracting the world's top players, who've been lured overseas by higher paydays.

"The markets globally have been stronger than the ones domestically, and the events have flowed to those stronger markets," Kramer says. "For example, we understand that Roger Federer is playing five or six events, and he's going to be paid $10 million in South America."

Federer was mobbed by fans when he started his recent South American tour in Brazil. Oftentimes the payout for those exhibition matches far exceeds the purse of tour events, which are also following the money abroad.

After 35 years, the Memphis men's and women's tournament is headed to Rio de Janeiro.

A couple of years ago, the Las Vegas men's event went to South Africa.

Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim remembers it wasn't long ago that the tour would thread its way coast to coast, winding through cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.

"We don't have that anymore," Wertheim says. "And I think it's very hard to become a tennis fan now. You may be the biggest Roger Federer fan in the world, but he only comes to the U.S. three, maybe four times a year, whereas a generation ago a player like Bjorn Borg would play 15 to 20 tournaments in the U.S."

Decline Of American Players

An American man hasn't won a Grand Slam tournament since Andy Roddick was the U.S. Open champion a decade ago. There are only seven American men in the top 100, and 10 women — about a fifth as many as there were in 1985.

Those numbers are not coincidental, Wertheim says. The tournaments tend the follow the workforce.

"We can play the chicken and egg game, but the decline of American players at the top of the rankings is directly correlated, I think, to the decline of American events," Wertheim explains.

"I can't really draw that correlation, no I can't," says David Brewer in disagreement. He oversees pro tennis at the United States Tennis Association, which governs American tennis.

He says that despite so many tournaments leaving, the sport still remains popular in the U.S. Big events the stars play, like the U.S. Open, get bigger every year.

While Brewer hates every time a tournament decamps overseas, he says tennis fans should be happy their sport is growing worldwide.

"It's a good healthy thing for the sport as a whole that it's as popular as it is globally."

But that means, for the first time in decades, that a tennis tour that stops in Zagreb, Belgrade, Kuala Lumpur and Acapulco will skip Los Angeles, and most other major American cities.

Copyright 2013 Southern California Public Radio. To see more, visit


No Meekness Here: Meet Rosa Parks, 'Lifelong Freedom Fighter'

As the 60th anniversary of the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott approaches, author Jeanne Theoharis says it's time to let go of the image of Rosa Parks as an unassuming accidental activist.

Internet Food Culture Gives Rise To New 'Eatymology'

Internet food culture has brought us new words for nearly every gastronomical condition. The author of "Eatymology," parodist Josh Friedland, discusses "brogurt" with NPR's Rachel Martin.
WAMU 88.5

World Leaders Meet For The UN Climate Change Summit In Paris

World leaders meet for the UN climate change summit in Paris to discuss plans for reducing carbon emissions. What's at stake for the talks, and prospects for a major agreement.


What Is Li-Fi And When Will You Use It To Download Everything Faster?

Li-Fi is a lot like Wi-Fi, but it uses light to transmit data. NPR's Scott Simon speaks to the man who invented the faster alternative: Harald Haas.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.