By Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Tennis Championships is headed to Atlantic Station and already has two big-name commitments: former U.S. Open champ Andy Roddick and former Georgia star John Isner.
HandoutAn artists rendering of an aerial view of the venue for the Atlanta Tennis Championships at Atlantic Station
No major ATP event in the U.S. is being held in a city’s downtown, much less in the middle of a center of a retail and residential complex like Atlantic Station.
“This will be a game-changer for tennis in Atlanta,” said Bryant, whose opinion was backed up by David Brewer, managing director of professional tennis operations with the United States Tennis Association, the sport’s governing body.
“There’s nothing even remotely similar to what this set up will be,” Brewer said.
The setting will be unique because it resembles something out of the old television ad where Andre Agassi played Pete Sampras on the streets of New York, rather than a competitive event with a purse of more than $500,000.
The tournament’s Stadium Court, where the most-important matches are played, will be constructed in Atlantic Station’s Central Park, where the Christmas Tree is currently located. Bleachers, enough to seat 4,000 people, will be temporarily constructed, rising up and over the escalator and stairways on either side of the Park, and onto the two streets, East and West District, that run parallel to the area. Those streets will be closed during the tournament. Two restaurants, Strip and Rosa Mexicano, will frame the ends of the court.
To make enough space, the trees and plants around Central Park will be temporarily moved and then replanted once the week-long event is completed. Arborists have already examined and approved the plan. Two competition courts will be built in a lot adjacent to where Interstates 75 and 85 run past, near where the Cirque du Soleil usually is held. Several practice courts will be constructed in a lot near 17th street and may be given to either the city or Atlantic Station once the tournament ends, according to Bryant.
The decks underneath Atlantic Station will provide not only parking for consumers, but a quick path for the players to move from the practice courts to any of the three competition courts or locker room.
Two walkways between East District and Market Street will provide a tennis village for fans. A now-empty building next to Dillard’s will host the tournament support functions, including offices, players’ locker room and lounge and other needed items.
As players serve on the competition courts, the skyline of the Atlanta will frame the action. Fans sitting at the top of the bleachers at the Stadium Court will also be able to see the buildings.
The Atlantic condominium building will dominate part of the southern skyline with the BB&T building framing another corner.
“There’s never been another event anywhere [in the U.S.] close to a downtown market,” Brewer said.
It is vastly different from the ready-made courts and closed settings at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, which hosted the event in 2009, or the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, which held the event last year.
Bryant said the surprising move to Atlantic Station began to build momentum in September. The tournament was seemingly headed back to the Atlanta Athletic Club but the owners and managers of Atlantic Station, led by Mark Toro, kept reaching out to share ideas, logistics and other pieces of information to try to persuade Bryant that they could host the event.
They had a staunch supporter in Mayor Kasim Reed, who expressed the desire a few years ago, when there was talk that a tournament would be held in Atlanta, that it be hosted in the city. He described Monday’s news as an early Christmas gift. Reed also spoke with Toro when his group, North American Properties, along with CB Richard Ellis Investors purchased a significant portion of Atlantic Station. In addition to being a tennis player and fan, Reed said he has spoken to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg about the economic impact the U.S. Open has on his city.
“This is a very, very important deal for the city,” Reed said.
The more tournament director Bryant listened, the more he intrigued he became.
He met the ATP board in London in late November and told them about the venue idea. The board, which Bryant said is known to deliberate on decisions, gave him nearly instantaneous approval to proceed.
Bryant and Brewer said they hope the uniqueness of the event and multitude of stores and nice hotels nearby will encourage a strong field, led by Roddick, a champion of a previous version of the event in 2001, and Isner, who has appeared in the finals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships the past two years. Roddick last competed in Atlanta in 2010. Mardy Fish, the two-time defending champ, has yet to commit to the event. It’s not uncommon for players to wait to commit as they sort out their schedules. Atlanta’s Donald Young said earlier this year that he hopes to play. Ticket prices haven’t been set.
“The venue will be very, very appealing, particularly players on the bubble,” Brewer said.