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La Costa tries to attract top tennis players back to tournament

Renovations at Carlsbad resort could lure top female talent to Mercury Insurance Open. The headliners this week are 10th-ranked Marion Bartoli and No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova.

July 15, 2012|By Andrew L. John
  • Marion Bartoli, the 10th-ranked player in the world, is headlining this year's Mercury Insurance Open.
Marion Bartoli, the 10th-ranked player in the world, is headlining this… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)

A year removed from what could be considered a low point for the Mercury Insurance Open, the once premier women's tennis tournament appears to be on an upswing.

A $50-million renovation of the host site at La Costa Resort and Spa at Carlsbad has certainly helped. While the resort was upgraded, tournament organizers oversaw changes to the tennis facilities that are primarily in an effort to attract the best WTA players, many of whom have skipped the event in recent years.

This year's event began Saturday and goes through Sunday.

Past winners of the tournament include Maria Sharapova (2006 and 2007), Lindsay Davenport (1998 and 2004), Venus Williams (2000, 2001 and 2002), Martina Hingis (1997 and 1999) and Steffi Graf (1989, 1990, 1993 and 1994).

But none of the top 10 players in the world were featured a year ago. After some of the top-ranked competitors avoided the event or withdrew, Sabine Lisicki, the 25th-ranked player in the world, became the default headliner.

It caused the tournament and the host site to consider measures that would bring back the top players in the game.

"Players, like everyone else, when they see investment and they see energy and they see things that are building the event and putting them on a bigger stage, those are places they're going to want to play," tournament director Steve Simon said. "It happens over time, but we wanted to start putting the foundation for that in place this year."

Renovations have been made to site grounds as well as the courts themselves. Premium seating has been upgraded, the north end of the stadium has been redesigned, and video walls have been added to provide an easier view of scores, match updates and replays.

Simon said that although no plans are in place, he envisions further improvements and attractions that will help the event return to "must-play" status among the elite tennis players in the world.

As a result, the talent pool is slightly more competitive this year, headlined by Marion Bartoli and Dominika Cibulkova — the 10th- and 15th-ranked players in the world, respectively. Joining them are Jelena Jankovic and Nadia Petrova, both of whom rank in the top 25.

Agnieszka Radwanska, who has since catapulted to the No. 2 ranking in the world, won the tournament a year ago in a field that included Vera Zvonareva, Andrea Petkovic and Ana Ivanovic.

This year's winner will take home $96,000, and the runner-up $53,000.

Simon acknowledged the talent pool in this year's tournament isn't what it once was when it was considered a "premier" tournament on the WTA tour.

But he said the field was stronger than it has been, and he expects it to continue to get better as a result of the changes that have been made to the event and the facilities.

"If you're doing the same thing in these events that you were doing two or three years ago, you're not going forward, you're gong backward," Simon said. "I think we'll be learning here what are the foundations and traditions that we want to be building around and where we can push the envelope and create a new environment going forward."

andrew.john@latimes.com

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