By David Goodman
There was plenty of good humor at the Caesars Tennis Classic in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall Saturday night. Emcee Justin Gimelstob remarked that at least Ivan Lendl, who lost 6-3 to Mats Wilander, wasn’t wearing the tight shorts he sported in the 1980s and 1990s, and Andy Roddick taught courtside fans how to play a tennis drinking game during his 6-4 win over Pete Sampras. But the best line of all may have been the courtside announcer’s remark that the 7,300 fans in attendance represented the largest tennis audience in the history of Atlantic City.
Perhaps that was funny because there were likely no more than 5,000 fannies in the seats, or because Atlantic City has never hosted an actual ATP or WTA Tour event. (The city has hosted a Fed Cup match, a couple exhibitions and the Atlantic City vs. Pennsylvania Athletic Club match in 1931.) It wasn’t brought up in any of the press conferences, but I’d bet last night’s after party at Dusk Nightclub in Caesars was the loudest and most crowded tennis after party in Atlantic City’s history.
All kidding aside, tennis fans – no matter how many were actually there – had plenty to smile about. They saw Wilander and Lendl renew their rivalry from the late 1980s, Sampras bang serves, Marat Safin hit winners, and Roddick hit and giggle his way to victories over both Sampras and Safin. They also watched as event “host” Venus Williams – with a little help from the more experienced Gimelstob – bantered about with her male counterparts between sets.
It was undoubtedly a feel good event, and great for tennis lovers to see six former world No. 1s having such fun. And Caesars deserves credit for getting in on the action by decking out their hotel and casino with tennis posters, giant tennis balls and nets hanging from the ceilings, and tasty tennis cupcakes (free!).
Who knows if the promoter made money or Caesars got enough bang for their buck. Let’s hope so. This type of evening can be a real win-win. Pay the players, entertain the fans, fill up the hotels, attract paying sponsors and make tennis the story of the day. And don’t forget the after party.