The Empire State Open, a WTA 125K Series event scheduled for May 9-15 on the red clay courts of Hempstead Lake State Park has been canceled. This attempt to bring professional tennis back to Long Island was courageous and ambitious, and is a loss to the local tennis community.
Long Island has a history of professional events, such as with the ATP’s Hamlet Cup (played under various names and at a few sites), which ran for 24 years and featured the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Attendance at this pre-open late summer event was a rite of passage for Long Island juniors and a chance to see the best in the world up close, in an intimate setting.
The WTA 50K Long Island Classic, hosted at Syosset-Woodbury Park in 2002-2003 was a smaller event, but in many ways, that was the charm of this tournament. Imagine watching the likes of future Grand Slam winners Marion Bartoli and Samantha Stosur courtside as they competed at a local park in July for free (just a modest fee was charged for the finals).
The Empire Open was not going to have the star power of The Hamlet or the accessibility of The Long Island Classic and it's scheduling in early May on red clay could have made for a cool mudfest. Still, the tournament organizers "If we build it they will come" philosophy is something to be admired.
Personally, I am saddened as my club, Bethpage Park Tennis Center was scheduled to host the wild card pre-qualifying event on our indoor red clay courts this next weekend and many local juniors including many at my club are disappointed to no longer have the chance to play in a local professional event.
I have heard that the Empire State Open organizers are "optimistic" that this event can be held in 2017. Let's hope they can pull it off next year.
Steve Kaplan is the Owner and Managing Director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as the Director of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and Executive Director and Founder of Serve & Return, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that provides free tennis programs to individuals experiencing adversity and struggle. Over the last 35 years, Steve has coached more than 1,000 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, and 2 NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions.He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.