Fans

From the moment they saw the familiar facade arching across the scenic sky as thousands walked across “tennis way,” fans of South Florida’s iconic tournament started posing with each other, taking selfies and sometimes simply staring at the entrance as if hoping to capture perhaps one last lasting image of their time at the final Miami Open on Key Biscayne.

Smiles brighten the days as legions of people from all over the world pose in front of the picturesque entrance to commemorate the moment.

The entrance is the same, but this time is different.

They walk, run and mosey to the iconic tennis venue in every conceivable combination, alone, in pairs, in groups – all with a common singular purpose.

The Miami Open was played on Key Biscayne for the last time, and they wanted to be part of the last chapter in that history. The stories are as diverse as the crowd itself.

Albert and Joyce Solochek of Milwaukee have been coming to Miami Open for 30 years. The snowbirds, who winter on Key Biscayne for two months a year, attend the annual tennis extravaganza like clockwork, and they saw that time ticking away.

“We’re very sad, and we stay on Key Biscayne, so we know about all the traffic and everything,” Joyce Solochek said, adding they walk to Crandon Park from the Village for exercise.

Her husband, who was wearing a faded orange Nasdaq-100 Open shirt, said the experience has maintained its charm and energy over the years “I think it’s been pretty much the same,” Albert said, assessing whether the tournament was lost any of its luster. “We thought maybe there would be less people, but today it’s as busy as it usually is.”

When asked whether they will attend the Miami Open in Miami Gardens, Mrs. Solochek was quick to respond: “The answer is, we will try it once,” she said.

Throughout the tournament, the competition and the crowds were reminiscent of Miami Opens of yesteryear, but this time fans knew they would never again feel the winds blowing off of Biscayne Bay as they watched their favorite players compete in paradise.

“I don’t feel good about it,” Lisa Theard of Denver said, walking towards the Crandon Park entranceway. “I’ve been coming for about 15 years. It’s a great tournament, Key Biscayne is a great island, and I stay here – so it’s nice to be able to walk back and forth whenever I want. It’s nice and convenient.

Theard, who was walking with a friend, also from Denver, said she isn’t sure if she’ll go to Miami Gardens to watch tennis or return to Key Biscayne for winter vacations. “It depends on what it looks like,” she said. “It depends on how much the tickets are going to be based on all the work they’re going to have to do to create this new tennis environment, and where there is to stay. You probably lost me, but they double the rates every year during this thing for a few weeks, so without the tournament here maybe the price will be lower and we’ll come back.”

In years past, the Village of Key Biscayne would be abuzz with people who were either going to the Miami Open or just wanted to hang out on the Key during the tournament to take part in the festive atmosphere, going to dinner, visiting bars and meeting like-minded people.

This year, the last year, the Village seemed quiet as the tournament took place. Some said it seemed as though there were even fewer people walking the streets and driving the roads of the town center than there would be on a typical Friday afternoon.

As dinner time approached, The Square Manager Michele Estevez, a big fan of the Miami Open, surveyed the shopping center’s parking lot and commented on balancing the desire to have people visit the Key while making sure they didn’t inconvenience those who live and work in the area. Signs warning people to park at their own peril decorated the lot.

“At least our signs are displaying very clearly that the parking is for the patrons and employees of the shopping center. It doesn’t say no event parking, so we try to be more polite,” the well-known Village resident said. “The impact on the shopping center is just the parking really, that’s why we put the signs. The businesses get affected because we are short of parking and people park in our spaces and walk or take Uber or the bus to the tennis center.  There is a little more foot traffic; last night I had dinner here at Costa Med, and there were people there who were coming from the tennis and they weren’t local people, they were tourists.”

Meanwhile, Kay Baker of Indiana made her way to Crandon Park with her husband for the last time, stopping to talk about their feelings on experiencing the island sporting event again before its gone. “I’m really sad. I guess they have a great opportunity, but I love this so much because we have season tickets in New York and this is much easier,” she said.

When asked if she and her husband would give Miami Gardens a try, Mrs. Baker was answered without hesitation: “He will but I won’t.”

Key Biscayne residents Randall and Lori Rombeiro went to the Miami Open for years and would stay on their boat at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club during the tournament just to get a little closer to the action. They had tickets for every day of the final Miami Open and were reticent about the tournament leaving the island.

“It’s a loss for the community, it’s a loss for the tournament. The city may view it as a net positive, but I don’t believe the future will prove that out,” Randall said. “I believe that part of what made this tournament what it is, is the soul of the community in which it’s been held, and when you rip that out I think you rip out the soul of the tournament along with physically taking it away from the location.”

The Rombeiros gave an example of the intimate environment that’s been available to not only fans of the tournament, but the biggest players in the game as well.

“One story that speaks to the absolutely irreplaceable nature and uniqueness of Key Biscayne is when you walk out to the Village Green during the tournament and you look up and here’s Roger Federer and his wife Mirka and their young children, and they are just playing,” Randall remembered. “Roger and his wife are sitting on a bench, the kids are off playing with other kids. Somebody of his power, his station in life and the things they have to worry about on a daily basis with regard to the safety of the family – to be that relaxed and feel that comfortable in that setting just speaks to how completely irreplaceable the setting is.

“That is what will be missed in the future.”

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