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New York Open has become more than just tennis

Kevin Anderson holds his trophy painting after winning

Kevin Anderson holds his trophy painting after winning his singles match 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 against Sam Querrey at the New York Open at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 18, 2018. New York artist Ted Dimond, who painted the painting, stands on the left. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When the second edition of the New York Open gets underway next month at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, it will be more than just a tennis tournament.

Not only will it be the return of men’s tour tennis to the United States — a tour which has orbited the earth since the conclusion of the U.S. Open — it also will be a show.

Top American players John Isner, Sam Querrey and Tennys Sandgren have committed to the tournament, along with Merrick’s Noah Rubin, the Bryan Brothers in doubles and defending champion Kevin Anderson of South Africa, who later in 2018 made the Wimbledon final. In 2017, he also made the U.S. Open final.

But orbiting around the tournament itself will be entertainment options aimed at those who aren’t necessarily fans of the game but who are looking for an interesting night out in the dead of winter, and who might discover tennis is a pretty cool deal.

“We have to make Nassau Coliseum the oasis for people to get out of the cold and come into the heat,” said tournament director Josh Ripple. “We have to create that heat.”

Former American Grand Slam stars Andy Roddick and Jim Courier will play an exhibition match on opening night Feb. 9. Before that they will be part of an exhibition culinary event with chef David Burke, who has a restaurant and bar at the Garden City Hotel, and other restaurants in Manhattan, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and St. Louis. The culinary event is a separate ticket that also allows entrance to the match.

During the week, the Wolf Pack Ninjas will give demonstrations, clinics and meet-and-greets, reaching out to their young fans who likely will be bringing along a parent or two. The acrobatic group, which promotes kids’ health, features various obstacle courses.

“Making it attractive to the consumer . . . if we [try to] survive on diehard tennis fans, we will be out of business,” Ripple said. “So we have to make the tournament much more content driven than just having matches on the court at 11 in the morning.”

In a sense, the New York Open strives to be a miniature version of the U.S. Open, in which a whole social earthquake emanates from the epicenter of tennis. Food and entertainment are part of its enormous success.

“We believe with Burke he’ll create that sort of high-end foodie elements people who are culinary types will say that’s cool,” Ripple said. “I’m not just coming to buy a hot dog and watch tennis. I can have some flamed bacon. Followers of David Burke who never knew about the New York Open will now know about the New York Open and who would never have considered buying a ticket will now consider it because of him.”

Then there is the Wolfpack Ninja Tour, which is owned by the same company that owns the tournament.

“The integration of Wolf Pack Ninja into what we are doing is very similar,” Ripple said. “You are going to have a following of kids and their families who are complete fanatics, who get on these Ninja courses, schools, camps. We own Wolf Pack Ninja. We will have clinics and classes. If we are able to market to say 500 kids times one or two parents who are learning about the New York Open through Wolf Pack Ninja, that’s a lot of people. The strategy is to find these non-tennis types.”

Even the Coliseum itself can be a selling point. Ripple said last year the he got great feedback from fans who previously had not been to the renovated arena. They were impressed with the classy venue, one that has been further enhanced with the return of the Islanders.

A lot of tour tennis has emigrated from the U.S. to other parts of the world over the past two decades. The New York Open was the old Memphis Open that was brought to New York to establish a higher profile for a low-tier ATP Tour event. It has to compete for players with two other ATP events in Europe and South America the same week.

“I would venture to say that the press gathering in other parts of the world, I’m sure New York is one of those events they would remember as opposed to Rotterdam or somewhere else in South America,” said Roddick, who was in town last week to help promote the tournament. “I think there is an inherit advantage.”

Roddick is a big fan of a total entertainment experience. “It’s refreshing to me so see someone think outside the box and create an all-encompassing event as opposed to going square peg, round hole based on the calendar,” Roddick said. “I applaud what you guys are doing, trying to keep these events stateside.”

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