The dream of an international tennis tournament in Miami began in the 1960s, when top tennis players such as Jack Kramer, Frank Sedgman, Pancho Gonzalez, Pancho Segura and Butch Buchholz toured the country in a station wagon, playing tennis in darkened arenas and fairgrounds. It was before the days of Open tennis, and they travelled with a portable canvas court and plenty of hopes. Buchholz – an original member of the “Handsome Eight” (the first recognized pros of Lamar Hunt’s World Championship Tennis Circuit introduced in 1968) – competed until he was forced to retire from tennis in 1970 with chronic tennis elbow.
In 1980, when Buchholz was executive director of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) – the player’s union – he met a vice president of the Thomas J. Lipton Company who liked his idea of creating a two-week players tournament. A sponsorship agreement would eventually be reached for $1.5 million a year for five years and Lipton would own the title. The “Winter Wimbledon,” as it was first dubbed, would be the first major tournament of the year (the Australian Open was then held in December). It was decided that the first tournament would be held at Laver’s International Tennis Resort in Delray Beach, 50 miles north of Miami.
Buchholz was thinking first class all the way and brought in Alan Mills, tournament referee at Wimbledon, as head referee, and Ted Tinling, a well-known tennis fashion designer since the 1920s, as director of protocol.
He then approached the ATP and Women’s International Tennis Association and offered prize money, a percentage of the ticket sales and worldwide television rights. In return he wanted the rights to run the tournament for 15 years. The associations agreed, but Buchholz remembers that he had his detractors in the beginning.
“The tours and some of the top players were skeptical,” Buchholz said. “Even [tennis writer/TV analyst] Bud Collins said at the time we didn’t need another combined event. At one point, I was sure if we didn’t have a signed contract the tour would have altered this event and we would not have the same event we have today.”
On Feb. 4, 1985, following 20 years of nurturing a dream to create a world-class tennis tournament, the first ball was struck at the International Players Championships and a new tradition in tennis began. Manuela Maleeva won the first point en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Angeliki Kanellopula. The first tournament turned out 84 of the top 100 men and 97 of the top 100 women. ESPN telecast the first weekend and the men’s semifinals, and ABC telecast the finals live. Networks from Australia, England, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden and West Germany also were present.
The first champions were Tim Mayotte and Martina Navratilova. The women’s final between Navratilova and Chris Evert was a sellout. Only Wimbledon and the U.S. Open exceeded the $1.8 million in prize money. But Laver’s was in financial trouble, so Buchholz moved the 1986 tournament to Boca West, an Arvida property in Boca Raton. This tournament hosted 43 of the top 50 men and 46 of the top 50 women. A tradition of excellent tennis had been established. But then Arvida sold Boca West, and Buchholz was again searching for a home for his event. It was after that successful second year that then-Dade County Manager and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Executive Director Merrett Stierheim helped pave the way for a move to Miami.
Stierheim showed Buchholz locations at Flamingo Park, Tropical Park and Amelia Earhart Park, before Buchholz crossed the Rickenbacker Causeway and fell in love with the property that would become the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, a Miami-Dade County Park that borders Key Biscayne.
“You go over that bridge, and it’s like leaving a city and entering tropical paradise,” Buchholz said. “It had that postcard feeling I was hoping for, and then I saw those 5,000 parking spots [by the beach], and I thought, ‘This is it.’ ”
The rest, as they say, is history.
First, a $1 million, 10,000 square-foot clubhouse was built at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park in 1989 with plans for a permanent stadium to follow. But there were obstacles. After a favorable court ruling involving the use of the land in July, 1992 cleared the way to begin construction, the bulldozers started humming in hopes of getting the stadium ready for the 1993 tournament.
However, Hurricane Andrew and then the Storm of the Century had other ideas.
“I want you to know we’ve got nine lives,” Buchholz said back then. “By this time next year the stadium will be up. I don’t have any lives left.”
On Feb. 13, 1994, as the tournament was celebrating its 10th event, Miami-Dade County dedicated the $20 million permanent stadium to the citizens of Miami-Dade County. The stadium also served as home to the USTA Player Development Program. Less than a month later, on March 11, 1994, Karin Kschwendt defeated Kathy Rinaldi-Stunkel, 6-3, 6-4 in the first match on Stadium Court.
“When we got the stadium built, and players like Steffi Graf, Pete Sampras, Gabriela Sabatini, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi started saying it was one of the best center courts in the world, it changed the players’ minds, and the minds of the tours.” Buchholz said, “They got behind us and we went on from there. We went from being a public wart to the tours feeling they should have more events like this one.”
Now a two-week event annually showcasing one of the deepest fields of the year, the Miami Open has reached the next echelon in presenting an international sports extravaganza. With more than $17.0 million in prize money and all the top players and media from all corners of the world covering the action every day, the Miami Open has earned its place in the world as one of the world’s largest tennis events, surpassed only by the Grand Slams.
Following the 2014 event, the tournament underwent a sponsor change. Itaú, the largest privately owned bank in Latin America, became the presenting sponsor of the event and the tournament, formerly the Sony Open, changed its name to the Miami Open presented by Itaú.
In 2019 the tournament moved from Key Biscayne to Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Tournament Owner IMG and Miami Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross partnered together to build a permanent world-class tennis facility that provides an elevated fan experience while incorporating a unique Miami look and feel. The best-in-class amenities allow the tournament to host a true lifestyle and entertainment event featuring the best in tennis, art, food and music.
The move was an instant success with the first tournament shattering attendance records. Nearly 390,000 fans attended the 2019 event breaking the previous attendance record by more than 60,000 people.
In 2023, The Miami Open welcomed a new group of champions, record attendance and a brand-new concert series in 2023.
Bigger and better than ever before, the festival atmosphere and complete entertainment experience that has made this iconic event the place-to-be in March was back with a bang as guests enjoyed the best that Miami has to offer. The Stadium Court within Hard Rock Stadium returned, and the revamped site included new infrastructure, and more green space where fans could relax when taking a break from the great tennis action.
Daniil Medvedev downed Jannik Sinner 7-5, 6-3 in just 94 minutes to claim the men’s singles title. A former World No. 1, Medvedev won his fourth title of the season and 19th overall. Sinner, who defeated current World No. 1 and defending champion Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals, was appearing in his 10th career final.
Petra Kvitova outlasted Elena Rybakina to claim the women’s singles title with a 7-6(14) 6-2 win. Kvitova’s title is the 30th of her career and her ninth at a WTA 1000. Rybakina, who saw her winning streak snapped at 13 straight matches, was appearing in her 12th WTA final.
Coco Gauff & Jessica Pegula beat Leylah Fernandez & Taylor Townsend 7-6(6) 6-2 to win the women’s doubles title. After finishing 2022 as the No. 3 team on the WTA, this is their second title of this season and fourth overall.
Santiago Gonzalez & Edouard Roger-Vasselin defeated Austin Krajicek & Nicolas Mahut 7-6(4) 7-5 to claim the men’s doubles title. The second title of the season for Gonzalez & Roger-Vasselin as a team and the first Masters 1000 title and 20th overall for the 40-year-old Santiago and the 25th overall and second Masters 1000 for Roger-Vasselin.
Hard Rock Stadium also saw record attendance this year, welcoming over 390,000 guests across the two-week tournament. The event had four sessions with record attendance as well.