Is elite WTA tennis finished in the Bay Area? It sure looks that way.
According to multiple sources, the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic (MSVC) will not be played this year at San Jose State.
Inside Tennis got word of the move over two months ago. And recently there have been additional confirmations. But there still has not been any official notice of the move.
The WTA event was first staged in 1971 in San Francisco. If it leaves the Bay Area, it would be the first time in 134 years that the region lacked a truly elite level tennis tournament.
In February, reliable industry sources informed Inside Tennis that the tourney had been sold to venture capitalist Mark Ein, who owns Washington DC’s Citi Open. Analysts suggested that Ein, who had also owned the Washington Kastles, would fold the San Jose event into his own Washington tourney.
On February 20, we tweeted: “Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic Sold: Sources indicate San Jose WTA tourney…has been sold to businessman Mark Ein & #MubadalaSiliconValleyClassic…will be folded into his Citibank Open.” No one contradicted our tweet.
In fact, additional sources confirmed it, and it became clear that the tourney would not be returning to its San Jose State site. And apparently Mubadala will no longer be a sponsor. The investment company did not respond to our inquiries.
Inside Tennis then posted a second tweet, saying we had additional confirmation that the tourney would be leaving. Again, no one disputed our tweet. Eventually we got through to Ein, who said he hadn’t purchased the MSVC. But when we asked him other questions, such as are you trying to buy it, are others trying to buy it or is it going to be held somewhere else this year, Ein refused to comment.
Mark Ein has done tremendous good for tennis, yet it was a curious conversation. The WTA’s well-respected CEO, Steve Simon, twice told Inside Tennis that his group hadn’t been notified of any change. Most recently, on April 19, he wrote us: “As of this date we have not received a request for the event to move. We are aware that there have been discussions surrounding a potential move of the event, but, again, nothing has been submitted for the WTA’s review and consideration.”
The tourney is still listed on the WTA schedule, but there is no ticket information. The tourney’s communication director has not returned our emails. For the first time in 41 years, the tourney hasn’t been in contact with Inside Tennis’s marketing department.
Co-founded 52 years ago by Billie Jean King, the Bay Area tourney played a critical role in women’s sports and was the longest running all-women tennis tourney in the world. The Bay Area’s premier men’s event, San Jose’s SAP Open, that traced its origins back to 1889, departed in 2013.
In 1971 Billie Jean beat Rosie Casals to win the first title at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova soon became staples. Venus’s 1994 emergence was the most ballyhooed debut in tennis history. Seles, Graf, Clijsters, Davenport and Sharapova all shined. Players of color – from Rosie Casals to the Williams sisters, Madison Keys, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff – were featured.
When it was the Bank of the West Classic, it thrived for 20 years at Stanford. The tourney seemed pitch perfect. Spectators took in the beauty of the breathtaking campus and the fan-friendly Taube Family Tennis Center. Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and Richard Williams all appeared. The press room sizzled. But as Indian Wells, the Canadian Open, DC and Cincinnati got bigger, the Bay Area tourney seemed to lose its luster.
Then a big Stanford donor didn’t want a commercial tourney on campus and the Bank of the West ended its sponsorship. In 2018 the tourney moved to San Jose State. Writer Bruce Jenkins soon noted, “Attendance was bleak, the atmosphere was largely tepid and the element of star power had vanished…People were wondering whether it had a future.”
Tournament owner IMG did their best – the site improved greatly. But going up against the Olympics was tough, and the tourney had bad luck – for example, Serena lost in the first round in 2018. But last year there was an extraordinary draw. Seven of the world’s top 15 players were on hand, including Coco Gauff. Crowds were good, the energy was high. Russian Daria Kasatkina, who’d just announced she was gay and who’d come out against the Ukrainian war, won the title, in the tradition of a tournament that for six decades was often on the cutting edge.
But now the trailblazing event seems to be departing. If so, there won’t be a big tennis event west of Ohio during the key summer months. And all we’ll have is memories, and the hope that someday the Bay Area will again stage a truly elite event.