Tennis greats, Martina Navratilova of the United States and former Australian champion Rod Laver say after a dip in popularity, new life is being breathed into the game. They spoke at a gathering to announce new corporate sponsorship for one of the big international tournaments played here in the United States.
Tennis professionals are hoping new high-profile sponsorship for one of the sport's premier events will also help spark the game. The event, which used to be the Lipton Open and then the Ericsson Open, will be sponsored by the Nasdaq stock exchange and renamed the Nasdaq-100.
The tournament, to be played in Miami, in late March, features over 200 of the world's top tennis professionals. It is considered the fifth largest tennis tournament in the world, after the four Grand Slam events.
Martina Navratilova, winner of 56 Grand Slam titles, says Nasdaq sponsorship is a big boost for the event.
"For some players, it's as big as any of the Grand Slams. The players love it and it's a great area, and now the new stadium is fantastic. Again, with Nasdaq-100 being global and with such a long-term commitment, I think it could take tennis to a whole new level," she said. The total prize money is also huge, nearly $6.4 million this year. Tennis has had its ups and downs in recent years, its popularity ebbing as public attention shifted toward other sports. But Australian Rod Laver, the only man to win two Grand Slams, says tennis is coming back under the sway of more exciting young players.
"I think it had been popular 10 or 15 years ago. But it took a little bit of a fall, and golf moved on up. But I think tennis has certainly come back with the new players. Roddick's playing. And I think the Williams' sisters have been great for the game. I think Jennifer Capriati has done a great job. I think that exposure will rub off on the average public," he said.