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VOL. 127 | NO. 142 | Monday, July 23, 2012

Serving Tennis

Memphis tourney ownership promises big things to come

By Andy Meek

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Fans of professional tennis in Memphis have got a lot to look forward to.

Milos Raonic, of Canada, right, signs autographs after defeating Olivier Rochus at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships tennis tournament in February.

(Photo: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

That’s according to Mike Lehr, the executive vice president of business development for Sharks Sports and Entertainment and part of an investment group that owns The Racquet Club of Memphis as well as the ATP tour championship event the club hosts each February, which draws some of the top players from around the world.

The city has been a major stop on the ATP World Tour since the mid-1970s, and Lehr and his colleagues are working to reassure Memphians the city will continue to play that role for years to come. Part of the need for that reassurance has come from the fact Memphis got caught up to a certain degree in recent decisions made by the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association to make some moves among several global venues.

Announced earlier this year was that Memphis will continue to host an ATP World Tour 500 event in 2013, then a 250 event from 2014 onward.

The WTA pro tournament will be played in Memphis a final time in 2013 and will then relocate to South America.

Now that all that’s been decided, Lehr said his group hopes to move toward making big investments around the tournament in Memphis. Local investors Brian Sullivan and Doug Carpenter helped Lehr’s group buy the tournament and club in 2008.

“Our group has invested significantly in the club since we’ve taken ownership of it,” Lehr said. “And we want the week of the tournament to be known as tennis week in Memphis. To build on that, we’re going to add to the tournament in terms of entertainment and hospitality and things that the fans will enjoy besides the fact that it’ll have pretty much the same feel they’ve been used to through the years. The quality of tennis always remains first and foremost.”

As part of that quality, the tournament in 2012 added the instant replay tool Hawk-Eye, which tournament officials said has been a hit among fans and players. And it will be part of the tournament going forward.

The tournament staff hopes to incorporate more new touches, like fun exhibition matches, special VIP packages, live music and more.

“We are pleased that Memphis will continue to be part of the exciting story of men’s professional tennis in the U.S. and look forward to many more years of ATP World Tour tennis at The Racquet Club of Memphis,” said ATP Tour President Mark Young in a statement released about the future of tennis in the city.

The Racquet Club’s current ownership bought the club in 2008 from Mac Winker, who bought the club from Memphis cotton merchant William Dunavant Jr. in 1992.

“We’re going to add some elements to the tournament on the entertainment side, and it really should be a great event for Memphis,” Lehr said.

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