Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bank of the West Classic to leave Stanford

As it turned out, the Bank of the West Classic ended a 21-year run at Stanford
with an indelible image as Madison Keys sat on CoCo Vandeweghe's lap after
beating her close friend for the title in August. Photo by Mal Taam 
   The San Francisco Bay Area stop on the WTA tour has no site and no sponsor.
   Other than that, the tournament is in great shape.
   All that's known at this point is that Stanford University no longer will host a WTA tournament.
   IMG, which runs the event, tweeted Friday: "After 21 years of partnering with Stanford University, IMG has been notified by the University that its policy of hosting corporate sponsored events on campus has changed and Stanford no longer will be able to host a WTA event at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium. IMG's highest priority is to keep the event in the Bay Area and we are working on a plan to do so."
   Stanford's decision is odd for several reasons:
   --No commercialism is very admirable, but what's that swoosh on the uniforms of Stanford athletes, including tennis players? Will the athletic department terminate its lucrative endorsement deal with Nike, too? Stop laughing hysterically.
   --The campus is very quiet during the summer tournament. What, the junior lacrosse camp backs up traffic to Millbrae?
   --Not that Stanford, which is wealthier than Bahrain, needs the money, but it received rent for hosting the tournament.
   --Nor, apparently, is the university interested in free national television exposure. Who knows, even Heisman Trophy voters in the East might notice eventually.
   --With Venus and Serena Williams approaching retirement, Stanford is throwing away a heaven-sent gate attraction for the next 15 years. Eighteen-year-old phenom CiCi Bellis grew up five minutes from Stanford in affluent Atherton, and her parents still have a house there. Of course, Bellis would have to win a Grand Slam singles title or three to draw casual fans.
   So what now? Playing the tournament indoors in its slot during the outdoor hard-court season leading up to the U.S. Open reportedly is not an option. That rules out San Jose's SAP Arena, the site of the now-defunct SAP Open on the men's tour, and Oakland's Oracle Arena, the home of the Golden State Warriors and site of the WTA tournament from 1979 through 1996.
   Inside Tennis reported that IMG has had talks with San Jose State and Silicon Valley and East Bay clubs as well as sites in the eastern United States, including North Carolina.
   Maybe Larry Ellison, the multi-billionaire who lives near Stanford in Woodside and owns the wildly popular BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, will save the WTA tournament.
   Tradition, though, doesn't seem to count for much these days. Founded in 1971, the WTA tournament in the Bay Area is the oldest women's tennis event in the world. It was sponsored by Bank of the West from 1992 through this year and held at Stanford since 1997. Past champions include Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Margaret Smith Court, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
   The SAP Open moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2014 after 125 years in Northern California. After 28 seasons in Sacramento, the Capitals of World TeamTennis announced in early 2014 that they were moving to Las Vegas. The franchise folded one month later when owner Deepal Wannakuwatte was charged with orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme involving his medical supply business. He is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
   As Inside Tennis reported, only eight years ago, California had six ATP and WTA tournaments: Indian Wells, Los Angeles, San Jose, Stanford, Carlsbad and Carson. Now the state that has produced Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Pete Sampras, King, Davenport, Helen Wills Moody, Tracy Austin and many other legends might be down to one.
   You don't have to be Nick Bolliettieri to figure out what's going on here. The United States hasn't had a men's Grand Slam singles champion since Andy Roddick in 2003. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka never played in the SAP Open. Andy Murray never returned to San Jose after winning his second straight title there at age 19. Venus Williams won the last of her seven major singles crowns in 2008, announcing in 2011 that she had been diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease. Serena Williams played in the Bank of the West once since 2012, and that was three years ago. Maria Sharapova returned to the tournament this year for the first time since 2011.
   Barring injury, Bellis would have played every year. Guaranteed.   

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