L.A.’s great summer tennis happening will be no more.
The Southern California Tennis Association, which owns the tournament
that has been played in L.A. for 85 years, is according to multiple
sources in the final stages of negotiations to sell The Farmers
Classic to investors in Colombia who will move the tournament to
Bogota. The deal reportedly will be worth $1.5 million, and there will
be no tournament in L.A. this year.
It is the second major blow to big time tennis in
California this year. Last spring, the SAP Open announced that it would be moving from
San Jose to Rio de Janeiro. With the departures of the L.A. and San Jose
tournaments to South America, the BNP Paribas in Indian Wells will be
the only major American men’s tournament west of Cincinnati. The ATP
tournament held in Las Vegas moved to South Africa in 2009. In 1980,
according to Tennis.com, there were 80 ATP tournaments in the United States.
Next year there will be 13.
The once-beloved L.A. tournament was promoted for years by Jack Kramer
and then his son Bob, but it faced many obstacles and went through
many sponsors over the years, such as Union 76, Volvo, Infiniti,
Mercedes and Countrywide. This year, Farmers Insurance decided to drop
its sponsorship, which reportedly meant the SCTA would be facing tournament losses
of $1.5 million in 2013. One SCTA official told IT, “Over the past two or three years, it is safe to say that we have lost
north of $2 million.” Another official said, “We just cannot continue
spending ourselves into bankruptcy.”
The Farmers Classic began as the Pacific Southwest Tournament in 1927,
and for decades it was played as a cozy, old-school (“isn’t that
Charlie Chaplin in the second row?) tournament at the L.A. Tennis
Club. In 1984 it moved to its own intimate venue, the Los Angeles
Tennis Center on UCLA’s Westwood campus, near the epicenter of L.A.’s
tennis-happy west side. Over the years, virtually all the great names
in the game won there: Tilden, Budge, Kramer, Gonzalez, Laver,
Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang.
But notable for their absence from the L.A. winners list were tennis’
dominant four players (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray), as well
as Andy Roddick.
The tournament suffered great economic consequences of such
cataclysmic events as the 9/11 attacks and the economic downturn that began in ‘08, and it was hurt by the emergence of tennis at the Olympics.
More to the point, it was also buffeted by many of the same tennis
problems that plagued the SAP Open. As we wrote in June, the factors include tennis’ “globalization, a dip in American men’s tennis, a devastating
new tournament tier structure, imperious player attitudes and maybe
just plain old age.” In the past, fans were drawn to the L.A. event
by world-class talent, rabid rants, slash-and-burn rivalries,
charismatic showmen and A-list Hollywood celebs. It was a place to be.
Wannabes, name-droppers, captains of industry and society folks all
But the great tennis champions of Europe increasingly bypassed the
event, due to the calendar (after the grind of the French Open and
Wimbledon), modest ranking points and low prize money. In 2011, when
Novak Djokovic came to L.A. to do the Leno show, he showed up at the
tournament, but only to practice and schmooz. Before that, Serena
Williams had been there too, but only to meet and mingle. In three of
the last four years, the not-exactly-charismatic Sam Querrey won the
title. Great local players such as Sampras, Mardy Fish and even the
Bryan Brothers at times refused to drive down Sunset Boulevard to
play. In 2011, the tournament stopped offering hefty player
appearance fees (such as $400,000 for Juan Martin del Potro for two
The truth of the matter is that the fabled tradition of tournament
tennis in Southern California had long ago headed East to Indian
Wells, with its warm desert sun, big money, open spaces, ample glitz
and resort sensibility. According to sources, the SCTA consulted with Indian Wells’ management, who offered to buy the tournament for Larry
Ellison in order to run it in back-to-back weeks with the WTA tournament
at the La Costa Resort north of San Diego. But the deal never happened.
Despite many a well-meaning effort, the L.A. tourney came to lack a
certain je ne sais quoi. Now, despite the protests from the ghosts of
Jack Kramer, Don Budge and Bill Tilden, it will be missing this summer
and possibly forever.