Last week the Miami Open lost an appeal over expansion plans the tournament had for its home in Crandon Park. Without the expansion, the Open has threatened to leave Miami.
Mariela Dacal has been playing tennis since she was 14 years old in Venezuela. She’s been going to the tournament since she moved to Miami as a teenager. Dacal now runs her own tennis academy in Southwest Miami-Dade. We spoke to her to get a better idea of how the Miami Open affects the area’s tennis community.
How do you think the tennis community sees the Miami Open?
I think it's the only real tournament that we have around our area that we can go and interact with players and see how they act, to see more than what you usually see on TV. It's the only opportunity that we have to see them joke around, for example. This year I saw [Roger] Federer spend an hour and a half signing autographs for children the day that he practiced. So if you don't go to that tournament you never get to experience that. You always see them so composed and focused on the game versus seeing more of a human side to these players. And you see that at the tournament.
How do you think that's important for tennis fans and players here?
I have younger kids, and for them it's seeing a role model playing, even when they make mistakes. Or they get to see how the players react. To have that opportunity to interact with them, it creates information for them for later on in life. It helps them develop their game and their ambitions to be like them. And it helps them grow as a tennis player. To eliminate that tournament eliminates that opportunity for that interaction, which is quite important as future tennis players develop in this area -- not only in this area, because I think there's a lot of people that come from other parts of the world, maybe South America, to see this tournament. It's quite important.
What's it like to go to the Open as a local tennis player? Is there a community of local players that you meet up with there?
Oh my God, yes! Totally! When we go we can say hi to probably 100 people. Usually you're just standing there and you're like "Oh, I know them!" My kids are like, "Oh, I just saw so and so!" So everyone is there interacting and you meet new people and you find new opportunities to play with other people and create new bonds with other people within the community.
Do you have a lot of events outside of the Open in which you all get together?
Yeah, there's leagues around and we have events and family days and things like that. But at those days at the tournament, you see a lot of academies that take all the children and you see the array of colors of different academies showing them the players, and the kids are running around signing those big yellow balls all excited that they're getting autographs. So I understand the economic perspective, the fact that they would like to grow and expand. But my perspective in the community is that it's very important for us to keep this tournament here.
What's your favorite memory from the Open?
I think I was in my late teens. A friend of mine said, 'You want to go with me? I have these tickets,' and I said sure. I showed up and it was Steffi Graf playing. It was so intense. I was so nervous that I was shaking. You know, you're overexcited. You're a teenager. You've seen this person playing all over and now they're in front of you. It was quite fun. Or to see my son this year. He loves [Rafael] Nadal. He's there sitting in the stands and he's looking mezmorized. You could've passed your hand in front of his eyes and he wouldn't notice. He was locked in, looking at Nadal the whole time. It's nice. You went through it and now you get to see them go through kind of the same thing.
How would you describe the tennis community here?
It's reserved, but full of dedicated and enthusiastic people. It's not so loud, but it is quite large and quite involved. There's a lot of leagues and tournaments always going on. Every weekend there's a tournament. So it's quite active.