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Jonathan Levine brings tennis back to Phoenix at the Arizona Tennis Classic

Matt Zemek

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Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix, Arizona, is my home town. It receives a lot of sunshine during the year, much like Indian Wells, California, the site of the second-biggest tournament of the 2019 season to date and — in many eyes — the fifth-most important event on both tours, after the four majors.

Phoenix hasn’t hosted a top-tier tennis event on the scale of Indian Wells, but this is a golf-and-tennis resort metropolitan area, chiefly in the upscale eastside suburb of Scottsdale. Tennis is enormously popular throughout the year as a recreational activity. This city, many would argue, ought to host a tournament of significance.

While an ATP 250 might be too ambitious, a $125,000 event on the ATP Challenger Tour is the next-closest thing.

Jonathan Levine, a former tour pro in singles and doubles, was — like me — born in the Valley of the Sun. He has succeeded in bringing professional tennis back to Phoenix with the debut edition of the Arizona Tennis Classic, a $125K challenger which begins next week on Monday, March 11, at the Phoenix Country Club. It runs through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $20 for weekdays, $30 for the weekend.

Get tickets here.

Find out more about Phoenix Children’s Hospital here.

The tournament benefits Phoenix Children’s Hospital. It has a 48-player field we will talk about more in separate posts at Tennis With An Accent.

I was fortunate enough to talk to Levine, who talked about the origins of the event, his vision, the tournament’s outreach to players, and much more.

Here is a portion of Levine’s remarks to me:

I wanted to do something in March, because we usually have great weather, the town is buzzing with different things, spring training, there are a lot of people in town. That was a tough week to get because the tournament was in Irving, Texas, for the last five years. I wanted to get the second week of Indian Wells because geographically its great for the players to come a short distance, and then they can go to Miami after here. From Phoenix’s standpoint it would be great for the players.

If I was going to do it, I felt we would get the best field possible, a field that is probably equivalent to a lot of 250s. I had been eyeing it, I had some good communication with the ATP, we had more dialogue. I began to assemble a team that has a lot of experience in running tournaments advising me. We brokered with Phoenix Children’s (Hospital) because for me it’s not going to be a profit center. I want to do it because so many people in this town love tennis, it’s a tennis town. Phoenix Children’s was part of the Scottsdale (tournament) at The Princess (resort) years ago. This tournament has a good cause, we’re bringing tennis back at a great time of year. It’s good for the players, it’s good for the community.

Levine talked about his relationship with the ATP and the discussions he had in order to get the Arizona Tennis Classic off the ground and turn it into a reality:

I think it was a matter of the ATP being comfortable we could pull it off. They knew who we were and had confidence in us to do it.

It was important to have this (tournament) in central Phoenix. The biggest hurdle for me to make it happen in town was securing the Phoenix Country Club. They’ve been great to work with. There are lots of details that go into it – it doesn’t happen overnight. That took some time. The ATP set some targets – this goal for tickets, this goal for logistics. There are certain time frames you have to put up the money, and then you’re committed. They need to know that the prize money is in by a certain time. They also check to do a site visit at Phoenix Country Club. Does it meet the standards? Do you have the right lights? (The lights need enough lumens to meet specifications.) Do you have the right spacing between the lines and the fencing, and things of that nature at the facility?

Levine addressed the question of how this ATP Challenger Tour event fits in with the battle between the ATP and ITF at the challenger level. There was no motivation to make any sort of statement or leverage play against the ITF. It never came up for Levine or the other people involved with the tournament:

“I had talked to the ATP prior to their transition – I wasn’t involved in that,” Levine said.

Levine talked about the selling points of the tournament and what the Arizona Tennis Classic is doing for players:

We have a great facility at the Phoenix Country Club – great locker room, great workout room, a player party for the players before the tournament. We have a Phoenix Suns (NBA) outing, giving tickets to them on the Wednesday night (versus the Utah Jazz, 7 p.m. local time on March 13) during the tournament. They have to sign up based on their tournament schedule and they fit this tournament into their calendar.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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