Tennis entrepreneur extraordinaire Ion Tiriac is making the most of the media spotlight on Madrid this week by trumpeting his grand plans for next year’s Masters event in the Spanish capital.
In 2009 the Mutua Madrileña Masters Madrid, which in the past has been a men’s indoor event, will become one of the ATP’s nine new ‘Masters 1000’ tournaments and will be held outdoors in May on clay alongside a 64-draw ‘premier’ WTA tour women’s tournament.
The event’s new format, its May date and a change in surface are part of wider plans by the ATP and WTA to improve their 2009 calendars for players and fans.
“Tennis has changed less than any other major sport over the past few decades,” Tiriac tells Tennis Week’s Richard Evans.
If the sport needs a larger-than-life figure to kick it into shape then Tiriac might be the man – he certainly talks a good game.
The Romanian, who made his name alongside controversial countryman Ilie Nastase when the pair won the 1970 French Open doubles title and later by managing the affairs of a young Boris Becker, is helping with the “technical direction” of next year’s new format.
And judging by what he tells Evans, the new tournament will become one of the biggest and best in the world.
“I don’t want to take out the Slams,” Tiriac says. “I just want the right to become bigger. I want to put as much prize money into the players’ pockets as I can even if that, per capita, exceeds, a slam.
“And I want the right to have a best-of-five-set final which, at the moment, is not allowed on the ATP Tour.”
The venue alone looks like making it one of the most fan-friendly tournaments in the world.
The 2009 event will be held just outside Madrid at the Caja Magica (the ‘magic box’), a brand new 160 million euro tennis complex currently being constructed.
The main showcourt will seat 14,000 fans – big, but not too big, because the most affordable seats should still give fans a great view of the tennis, Tiriac says. The facility will also boast three stadiums with retractable roofs.
Tiriac’s other bugbear is the quality of the tennis and the quality of the viewing experience for fans watching on site and on TV.
His solution is a tennis ball that would be 10% bigger than that currently used. “It would improve the play,” Tiriac insists.
“It would help the serve and volleyers who are practically non-existent today. And it would be easier to see on television.”
It is also hoped that the event’s new home will stage the Olympic tennis event in 2016 should the city win the bid to stage the games.
Madrid was earlier this summer confirmed as one of four applicants to stage the 2016 Olympics along with Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
The 2009 Mutua Madrileña Masters Madrid is scheduled for the week beginning May 11.