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Comfort Zone

Tennis event's new home in Carson offers more seats and space and better sightlines

August 04, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Quaint was cute.

Unless you were a fan settling in for a long afternoon of tennis up high in the bleachers, ready to torture your lower back muscles for a few hours. Or if you were a professional player faced with the choice of sharing the dressing room quarters with club members or racing back to a nearby hotel to change clothes and shower.

Quaint isn't always comfortable.

This isn't to say that the former venue of the JP Morgan Chase Open, the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, was not without considerable merit, charm and numerous amenities in the area.

It had all of those things. But it didn't have permanent stadium seating for several thousand spectators, luxury suites and enough show courts for an elite WTA event. So, in a sense, the Home Depot Center came along at the right time for tennis, as the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) decided to build a soccer stadium and kept right on building its sports super city in Carson.

Activity was swirling all around AEG's Tim Leiweke on Friday morning in the plaza between the soccer and tennis stadiums. Tennis players had started checking in for the $635,000 tournament, which starts today with main-draw action; Major League Soccer players were getting ready for a news conference for their All-Star game, which was held Saturday. And the San Diego Chargers were rolling up on their golf carts, returning for an NFL training camp session.

It made sense, after all, since soccer spawned the tennis stadium. Even if billionaire Phil Anschutz was slightly taken aback when Leiweke first presented his expanded sports plan to rule the world.

"Instead of, 'Wow!' it was 'What?' " Leiweke said, laughing, as he recalled Anschutz's first reaction.

Tennis has been a harder sell for AEG than soccer, so far, as evidenced by the attendance problems at the season-ending WTA Championships at Staples Center. AEG's partners in the WTA championships and the Morgan Chase Open are the management firms Octagon and IMG, with the latter owning the Carson tournament, and any huge marketing push has not been overt from either firm.

AEG officials and tournament director Gus Sampras, of IMG, acknowledge that it has been difficult to get club members to make the move from Manhattan Beach to Carson.

Thus, additional efforts have been directed at Long Beach and Orange County.

"It'll take a year, we've got to be patient," Leiweke said. "I can guarantee everybody who comes out here will be blown away. They're going to love it."

The new facility with excellent sightlines is a quantum leap from what tennis fans have been used to in the past in Los Angeles. There are 8,000 permanent seats with the ability to reach 13,000, using temporary bleachers. It has 19 luxury suites. The architect is the firm Rossetti, which is responsible for new stadiums at the U.S. Open, Miami and Indian Wells.

This time, the size is reasonable. The stadium looks like the lower bowl at Indian Wells, and, amazingly, players don't appear to be the size of ants from the last row. Binoculars will only be necessary if someone wants to check out a tattoo on a player.

Players will have more room. There are two other show courts, plenty of practice courts and two sizable dressing rooms.

It's a far cry from Manhattan Beach. Sampras had to shake his head, recalling the time when Monica Seles was getting ready for a match and was asked for an autograph in the bathroom at the club.

That time, quaint definitely was not cute.

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