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Mercedes Moments Will Stay at UCLA

Analysis: Anschutz group would love to have tennis tournament move to Carson, but Kramers remain loyal to pact.

July 25, 2002|BILL DWYRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the moment, there is no Field of Dreams in the future of men's summer pro tennis in Los Angeles. Phil Anschutz may be building it, but Jack and Bob Kramer won't be coming.

At least, not for the moment.

When the Anschutz Entertainment Group announced a couple of years ago that, as part of a national training center to be built in Carson, it would construct a shiny new tennis stadium that would be expandable to 13,000 seats, one conclusion was quick and easy: The local men's tournament, now known as the Mercedes-Benz Cup and played at adequate yet unspectacular facilities at UCLA, capacity 7,200, would be falling all over itself to move.

Nope. Not for the moment.

That message was crystal clear Wednesday, as the tournament carried on for the 76th year. Bob Kramer, the tournament director, and his father, Jack, a patriarch for this event and the sport in general, have an easy-to-understand stance on the matter: They have 80 years left on a 99-year agreement with a partner they are fond of, UCLA, and they have no intention of messing with that.

"If there is something that can be done that makes both us and UCLA happy, as well as AEG," Bob Kramer said, "then we're more than eager to go ahead."

There have been meetings, discussions, jockeying for position. The most recent meetings were Tuesday. But even with what Bob Kramer termed "truckloads of money" being tossed their way by AEG to get the event to move to Carson, the loyalties and ties that bind with UCLA ever since the 99-year contract was signed just before the 1984 Olympics speak louder than anything else.

At least, for the moment.

According to Bob Kramer, the best inroads made toward any movement of their event was last fall, when the proposal was put on the table to alternate events at Carson and UCLA with the current Women's Tennis Assn. event now held each August at the Manhattan Beach Tennis club, a cozy yet unspectacular venue. UCLA, and such key officials from the school as John Sandbrook, found that palatable because they would continue to host a pro event and would, this way, be able to offer their fans women's tennis as well as men's. Translation: It was a Title IX-friendly plan. Kramer said that officials of the women's event seemed open to that discussion too.

"For a while, it seemed like that might work," Bob Kramer said. "But eventually, we got the sense that Tim [Leiweke, AEG's president] wanted both events at once. So that plan went away."

But Kramer also was careful to say that AEG's newly named Home Depot National Training Center is, by no means, being dismissed out of hand. He and the Southern California Tennis Assn. are hoping to play a major role in the AEG tennis facility as administrators of youth tennis programs there. That relationship, Kramer hopes, will build bridges to the future, and maybe lead to his tournament eventually moving to Carson.

So there is gridlock, for the moment.

Leiweke, for his part, remains optimistic and aggressive, personality staples that keep him running 100 mph every day, doing deals and building things.

"We are building a world-class, state-of-the art facility," he said. "It will have the best locker rooms, the best suites, concessions, parking and campus surroundings. It is the intention for this stadium to be as good as any stadium in the country, except for Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open.

"We respect what the SCTA has in the way of its processes, and we respect the tradition of the event. But we feel, at the end of the day, when everybody sits down and looks at the situation for the good of the players and the fans and the city of L.A., the right thing will be done."

So the politics will continue, for the moment.

The United States Tennis Assn., often criticized for being slow-moving and less than innovative in a sport that needs every glimmer of new ideas it can find these days, wants to use the L.A. event as the kickoff to its important and lucrative post-Wimbledon, hard-court summer season. And it wants to do it big-time, in a shiny new facility, with network TV cameras turned on and rich TV rights money in the coffers.

IMG, the International Management Group that wields a big stick in men's and women's tennis and wasn't happy when Leiweke and AEG maneuvered the Women's Tennis Assn.'s season-ending event to Staples Center this November, will need to stop sulking about losing that fight.

AEG will need to figure out a way to compensate UCLA for an annual financial boost from the Mercedes event of around $300,000, money that has done such things as help build the Arthur Ashe Student Health Center.

The Kramers? Looks like they are in the catbird's seat.

At least, for the moment.

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