The public address system thundered “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses as two sheepish tennis players emerged from behind a cloud of machine-made smoke, only to be greeted by roughly 50 fans sitting quietly at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
This was no jungle. It was the first day of the New York Open, the newest men’s tennis tournament on the ATP calendar and an event that seemed to be largely ignored by most people in the area.
With many matches played during the day during work and school hours, and with the Olympics and even baseball’s spring training soaking up much of the attention in the sporting landscape, it was a challenge for a new and relatively unknown tournament to gain traction.
Even an on-court confrontation between Donald Young and Ryan Harrison, and the subsequent controversy over whether Harrison had made a racist comment, did little to generate buzz.
Many of the early-round matches drew sparse crowds, with attendances in the low hundreds. By Sunday, when top-seeded Kevin Anderson defeated No. 2-seeded Sam Querrey, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(1), in the singles final, there were about 2,500 people in the stands. Organizers, who moved the tournament from Memphis, where it had been for over 40 years, to Uniondale, N.Y., said they were generally satisfied.
“For the first year, it was what we expected,” said Josh Ripple, the tournament director. “Already, it’s more than Memphis was for the last 10 years. To think we would get 6,000 people here in the first year is just a bad thought process unless you’re going to have Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.”
Those stars were not present, but the event offered a striking new look as an attraction: black tennis courts adorned with white lines. The fashionable new surface was making its professional tour debut (it had previously been used in the Laver Cup exhibition last year) and most players seemed to like it.
“I wish more tournaments would use it,” said Artem Sitak of New Zealand, who lost in the doubles final with Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands. The doubles winners were Philipp Oswald and the veteran Max Mirnyi, who was playing in his 100th ATP doubles event. Mirnyi, a 40-year-old Belarusian, won the United States Open doubles tournament twice and spent time in New York training when he was a teenager. Being back in the region, he said, was a thrill.
After the match, Young told an ATP official that Harrison had made a racially insensitive comment toward him during their altercation, and later made a similar, vague accusation on his Twitter account. Harrison denied it and an ATP investigation found no evidence to support Young’s claims. A witness, one of the ball persons on the court at the time, said he had heard the entire exchange and corroborated Harrison’s account.
Among the biggest names to attend were Querrey, John Isner, Kei Nishikori and Anderson, who made it to the U.S. Open final last September before losing to Nadal. But his win Sunday pushed Anderson to No. 9 in the ATP rankings and cemented his affection for the state.
“I’ve had two good outings the last two times I’ve been in New York,” he said. “So I definitely look forward to coming back next year.”
Another player who enjoys playing in New York is Noah Rubin, the former Wimbledon juniors champion who grew up a 10-minute drive from the coliseum, in Merrick, N.Y. Ranked 234th in the world, Rubin was given a wild-card entry, but he lost to the fifth-seeded Nishikori in the first round on Tuesday. That match was fairly well attended, once people settled into their seats.
“When I first got on court and looked around I was worried,” Rubin said of the crowd, “but then it filled in and it was pretty cool.”