The History of the Lipton Tennis Tournament


The Lipton Tennis Tournament, which is now the Miami Open (or Miami Masters Tournament), is a professional 1000 tennis event on both the men’s (ATP) and women’s professional tour (WTA). This south Florida tournament is one of only a few professional tennis events (outside of the four Grand Slam events) where:

  • The main singles men’s and women’s draw has more than 64 players.
  • The gameplay of the main draw covers more than one week.  

The original idea for a south Floridian tournament was shared by several internationally-known tennis players in the 1960s. Fifty-plus years later, the original players would be greatly surprised and impressed to see just how important – and enjoyable, the Miami Open has become to both fans, players, and even the worldwide tennis community.

The Lipton Tennis Tournament’s Humble Beginnings

The Lipton Tennis Tournament was officially founded by former professional tennis player – Butch Buchholz. Buchholz, who eventually became a part of the ATP’s administrative elite, had simple objectives.

The Initial Vision for the Lipton Tennis Tournament

Buchholz’s vision for the Lipton Tournament was for it to become a sort of mini grand slam. He admittedly wanted the tournament to be a sort-of Winter Wimbledon-like tournament.  

He also wanted the tournament to be played early in the tennis calendar. One of the main reasons for this timing preference was that South Florida’s weather is superb for tennis and tennis fans when played deep into the Northern Hemisphere’s winter.

His basic premise was to create a field of 128 players in singles for men and women. Eventually, in time and with pressure from all sides, Buchholz revised the tournament’s rules. The changes included a cut to the draw to 96, which ultimately meant that only the top 36 players would receive a first-round bye.

Eventually, the high heat and humidity, combined with the slow hard-court surface, created long rallies that became problematic to players – especially for five-set matches. So, the men only played five sets in the final match. However, it is noted that the ATP tour required all-non Grand Slam events to switch to a three-set final in 2007.

Buchholz used his influence to impact the event’s placement on the professional tour. He even managed to recruit a Wimbledon referee to head the officiating duties for the first year of this new tournament.

The Lipton Tennis Tournament, which is the second meeting of professional tennis players on tour, is now considered among the preeminent tennis events. For many years, this South Florida tennis event was informally known as the Fifth Major – as in the 5th Grand Slam. Recently, the Lipton, along with the rising popularity of California’s Indian Wells Masters, have combined to create what is colloquially known as the Sunshine Double.

In its first 3 Years, the Lipton Tennis Tournament was Held in 3 cities in the Sunshine State.

1985 – Year One – Delray Beach, Florida

The first Lipton Tennis Tournament event was played in 1985 in southern Palm Beach County at Rod Laver’s International Tennis Resort. Martina Navratilova outplayed Chris Evert for the first women’s title. Evert beat Steffi Graff for the title the next year.

[Note – The Delray Beach Open (which is a smaller (ATP 250) tournament) is still played in this beachside community each February.]

The prize for the Lipton Tennis Tournament during that first year, which was funded by the WTA (in exchange for television rights and a share of ticket sales), was $1.8 million. To provide some perspective, at that time, the purse for the Lipton Tennis Tournament was only smaller than the prize money offered for the U.S. Open and Wimbledon Grand Slam tournaments.

1986 – Year Two – Boca Raton, Florida

A year later, in 1986, the Lipton Tennis Tournament was successfully played in nearby Boca Raton, another beachside city and the southernmost point along the Palm Beach and Broward county border.

1987 – 2018 – The Tennis Center at Crandon Park – Key Biscayne, Florida

In 1987, with a bit of convincing from a local county manager, the tournament moved further south to the top of the keys in Key Biscayne. Buchholz recognized it was important that the Lipton Tennis Tournament be held at a place that was not also a resort – where guests were inconvenienced by the event.

The tournament’s original Key Biscayne home (located just south of Magic City) was at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park. This same facility is currently home to the USTA’s program for player development and other purposes.

For the Lipton Tournament, Crandon Park offered a dozen competitive courts and another half-dozen courts that could be used for warm-ups and practice. In addition, the Tennis Center at Crandon Park has on its grounds both green (i.e., American) and red (i.e., European) clay courts as well as a pair of grass courts.

The Most Memorable Match Played At the Tennis Center at Crandon Park

This South Florida tennis tournament, particularly on the men’s side, has been the home of some of the scrappiest underdog comebacks and stunning legend victories – all in the warmth that only the Sunshine State can provide in winter.

Federer and Nadal (arguably among the greatest professional men’s tennis players of all time) had their first two meetings (of the many memorable matches) at the Miami Open. In 2005, when he was only 17, Rafael Nadal shocked the tennis world when he beat Roger Federer (who was ranked as the world’s number one player at that time) in the 3rd round in only two sets. Nadal lost in the next round to Fernando Gonzalez.

A year later, Federer had his rematch with Rafael Nadal in the Miami Open. This final duel has become one of the most memorable Miami Open final matches of all time. It began when each play split one set. Then, Nadal jumped to a 4 to 1 lead in the third set of the match.

That is until Federer did what he did best, he found a way to fight back. Nadal, who was at one point only two points from the title, won by Nadal in yet another tiebreak. In the end, after four hours of gameplay, Federer wore down Nadal. Federer finished that year with an 81-4 record and a remarkable 11 ATP titles on tour.

The Later Years In Key Biscayne

The Lipton tournament administrators understood the facility needed an upgrade to remain competitive as the popularity of tennis grew exponentially over the past few decades. They proposed a $50 million renovation in 2014 that would have added several stadiums and a complete upgrade to the tennis facility in Key Biscayne.

However, the original land donors, who set forth restrictions as a part of the donation, were unhappy with the plans. They chose to enforce the written provisions that prohibited more than one stadium from being built on the land that was donated.

A legal fight ensued. In 2015, the tournament lost its legal bid to upgrade the tournament’s current Key Biscayne sight to the original donors.

2019 – Hard Rock Stadium – Miami, Gardens, Florida

As a result, the now Miami Open moved north to Miami Gardens to the Hard Rock Stadium, a multiple-purpose stadium that is also home to the NFL’s Dolphins as. Well, as the Miami Hurricanes. To create an ideal tennis facility, Hard Rock Stadium constructed 29 permanent tennis courts, which include eleven courts designed for tournament play. The stadium is modified for a center court – roughly placed between each of the field’s two-30-yard lines used in football.

This move has been heralded by both fans and players moving to Hard Rock Stadium as quite successful as it offered space and convenience.  The Hard Rock Stadium opened a Skyview Gondola in 2020, running along the south side of the complex, offering remarkable views of both the surrounding area and the Miami Skyline in the distance.

Why was the land on which the tournament was played considered haunted?

It was once an Indian burial ground.

Who won the first men’s Lipton Tennis Tournament?

In his first-ever tournament win, American Tim Mayotte beat Scott Davis to become the Lipton’s Tournament’s first men’s winner. Ivan Lendl became the second men’s professional player to win the title when it was played in Boca Raton.

What are the various names of the Lipton Tennis Tournament used throughout the year?

From 1985 to 1992, it was known as the Lipton International Players Championship. For the next seven years (until 1999), the tournament was known as the Lipton Championship. Since then, it has been named the Ericsson Open, the NASDAQ-100 Open, the Sony Ericsson Open, and the Sony Open.

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