By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s stop on the professional tennis circuit has a new name, a new sponsor and for the first time in several years, a sense of identity and security.
The main draw of the Connecticut Open, which has previously been known as the Volvo, the Pilot Pen, and most recently the New Haven Open, gets underway Sunday at the Connecticut Tennis Center.
The latest name change came after the state last year agreed to spend $618,0 to buy the Women’s Tennis Association sanctioning rights to the tournament and keep it from moving to North Carolina.
United Technologies Corp., which is based in Hartford, then agreed to become the presenting sponsor for the next two years.
The tournament’s other major sponsors– Aetna Inc., American Express Co., First Niagara Bank, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale University– also renewed.
A men’s, women’s or combined tournament has operated in New Haven since 1990. But the tournament has not had a title sponsor since Pilot Pen left in 2010 along with the male players.
The event now will be run as a not-for-profit charity.
“The difference between now and any other time in the 17 years that I’ve been involved with the tournament is that the key stakeholders are not going anywhere,” said Anne Worcester, the tournament’s director. “That gives the tournament much, much, much more viability than ever before.”
Worcester has acknowledged the event has been losing money and has seen a steady drop in attendance, which led officials last year to close off the upper bowl in the 13,000-seat Connecticut Tennis Center.
Just 45,796 fans attended last summer, down from 76,480 in 2010, the last year it was a combined event with the ATP men’s tour. It drew 53,004 in 2012.
In an effort to reverse that, Worcester is bringing back men’s tennis in the form of several “legend” exhibition matches. Those will feature Fairfield native James Blake, a two-time New Haven tournament champion, who convinced friends Jim Courier and Andy Roddick to join him. The matches will take place on Wednesday and Thursday nights, when ticket sales typically lag.
The tournament also has revamped the food court to add more offerings and added cellphone charging stations and other amenities.
But it is hoping this year’s stronger field will be the biggest draw.
While many players choose to take the week before a major championship off, Worcester and her staff have been marketing the tournament to players as a good way to tune up for the U.S. Open. The Connecticut Open uses the identical balls and court surfaces and is less than a three-hour drive from the National Tennis Center.
Worcester said she keeps wildcards ready for players coming off injuries, or who may have been eliminated early in tournaments in Montreal or Cincinnati and may want a few more competitive matches.
Eleven of the world’s top 25 players are in this year’s field, including Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova and runner-up Genie Bouchard and four-time New Haven champion Caroline Wozniacki.
“I think a lot of players like to play there,” said Kvitova. “I am one of them. And in the past years I had good runs there, so I hope that I can really break it and play a little bit more matches.”
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