By Christopher Menendez

“Welcome to the Jungle.” That’s what six Miami Open players heard this afternoon as they walked through the Jurassic Park-esque entrance to Jungle Island. Belinda Bencic, Coco Vandeweghe, and Monica Puig from the WTA and Dominic Thiem, Leonardo Mayer, and Pablo Carreño Busta of the ATP embarked on a mini adventure with ligers, leopards, parrots, and a few surprise guests.

The Jungle Island experience is unique in that visitors can interact face to face with wild animals. Yes, that means that at one point you may have two macaws on your shoulders and another resting in your arms pretending to be asleep. The dark blue macaw took a special interest in Argentine player Leonardo Mayer and started whispering something in his ear before letting out a loud “PAKAW”. That marked the end of the parrot experience for the gentleman. The birds were sweet with the WTA players and were enthused with Monica Puig’s silky hair. Coco and Belinda laughed nervously as they took pictures.

A short walk down one of the lush trails led to Jungle Island’s resident liger (half tiger/half lion) who eats twenty pounds of meat every day and weighs more than nine hundred pounds! The player’s eyes glowed as they stared at the powerful creature in awe. Next, the players made their way down to the koi fish lake for a special meet and greet from Jungle Island’s 14-foot albino Burmese python. Belinda immediately made a 180 in terror, apparently she isn’t a fan of snakes! Her fellow players, showing true sportsmanship, cheered her on to snap a group picture and overcome her fear. Another first at the Miami Open!

We had a few words with Dominic Thiem who shared that his spirit animal was the penguin. We’ve never heard of penguins being any good at tennis, but they adapt well to different environments, we see the connection, Dominic. The island’s newest resident, a 5-month-old kangaroo, came out to wish the players good luck before they headed back to Crandon Tennis Park.

The men’s and women’s main draw begins Wednesday, March 22 at the Crandon Park Tennis Center starting at 10:00 AM.

About the Miami Open presented by Itaú

The 2016 Miami Open will be played March 21-April 3 at the Crandon Tennis Center in Miami. The two-week combined event is owned and operated by IMG. The Miami Open is one of nine ATP Masters 1000 Series events on the ATP calendar, a Premier Mandatory event on the WTA calendar, and features the top men’s and women’s tennis players in the world. The tournament is widely regarded as the most glamorous on the ATP and WTA calendars because of its exotic Miami location, thriving nightlife, five-star hotels and restaurants, beautiful weather and beaches, and its celebrity appeal. For ticket information, call +1.305.442.3367 or visit

About Itaú

Itau is the largest Latin America privately owned bank, with approximately 95,000 employees and operations in 20 countries throughout the Americas, Asia and Europe. Itaú’s relationship with sport goes back to the 1970s, when Itaú first sponsored the Itaú Tennis Cup in Brazil in 1970. Itaú has been a sponsor of the Miami Open for the last six years, and also sponsors the Rio Open, the only combined ATP/WTA event in South America. Itaú also supports the Brazilian Women’s Tennis Circuit, only female professional tournament in South America, certified by the Brazilian Tennis Confederation (CBT) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), as well as the Tennis Institute Training Center, responsible for the development of young, new talent.

About IMG

IMG is a global leader in sports, fashion and media operating in more than 25 countries around the world. IMG’s businesses include Events Media, College, Golf, Tennis, Performance and IMG Academy, Fashion, Models, Clients, Licensing, Joint Ventures, and creative management agency Art + Commerce. In 2014, IMG was acquired by WME, the world’s leading entertainment and media agency. Together, the companies offer an unparalleled client roster; strategic partnerships with sponsors and brands; and marquee assets across sports, entertainment, events, music and fashion.