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How James Blake is Remaking the Miami Open

Last Updated: March 27, 2024
The former tennis pro turned tournament director discusses what it takes to make the Miami Open happen, as well as what he thinks about the worlds of men’s and women’s tennis in 2024.

The morning after a sweltering March day in Miami, James Blake looked cool and collected inside a Hard Rock Stadium suite despite being headlong into his most stressful and frenzied two weeks of the year.

A former tennis superstar himself, the 44-year-old Blake has been the tournament director of the Miami Open, one of nine ATP 1000 and WTA 1000 events just below the sport’s four grand slam events since 2018. He is responsible for everything from scheduling matches on the court, tending to the players’ needs while making sure every man and woman receives equal treatment. Working together with IMG’s experienced event team, the wider Endeavor network and partners at the Hard Rock Stadium, Blake ensures ensuring that partners, sponsors, broadcasters, and fans have the best possible experience during the tournament’s two weeks.

“During the tournament, no two days are the same, and it’s always shifting,” Blake told Boardroom. “It’s a lot of pressure with a ton of timely things that need to be done to run an event like this. My wife jokes that these two weeks at the Miami Open is the only time I’ve ever had a real job in my life.”

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Making the Miami Open

Putting together the tournament schedule is what Blake said is the most time consuming aspect of his job, dealing with the ATP men’s tour and WTA women’s tour months in advance on prioritizing which players should compete on center court. Once that’s agreed on, things can be fluid and hectic if a player gets hurt or has an early morning media obligation and would prefer not to play at night. That’s on top of making sure players’ basic necessities like top-level courts, facilities, transportation, locker rooms, and trainers are accounted for.

For Blake, being a former player helps the most in earning the players’ credibility that he’s going to do everything he can on their behalf to make sure their needs are accounted for. That includes one request several years ago to be able to use an electric scooter on the tournament grounds, which security would not permit.

“There’s inevitably going to be bad news at events,” he continued, “whether players didn’t get the schedule they wanted, can’t get an extra car, the towels or coffee aren’t the way they want. Whatever it is they’re looking for, they want to know that someone is fighting for them.”

Looking back at his playing days, Blake joked that he should’ve made more special requests now that he sees how much certain players ask for. He realized he played a lot more night matches during his career because he never complained about it, so schedulers felt they could place him in less desirable slots.

Blake’s biggest accomplishment as tournament director is definitely moving the Miami Open from Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park to Miami Gardens in 2019 in a venue that hosts the NFL, college football, boxing matches, concerts, and a Formula 1 race. Having the suites and amenities there, along with being able to provide the players with everything they need, is something he took great pride in.

Mixing Tennis with Major League Pickleball & Much More

While Blake’s focus is largely on the players during the first week, with hundreds competing at once in both singles and doubles. But once you get to the round of 16 and quarterfinals in week two, there are fewer players, and they’ve gotten into a good routine and rhythm. The focus and attention ramp up with sponsors and VIPs from IMG, Endeavor, and Hard Rock Stadium, making sure they’re taken care of and everything runs smoothly.

With fewer tennis matches during the second week, the Miami Open decided to get inventive this year to provide quality content and entertainment for guests on its outer courts. This year, the Open partnered with Major League Pickleball for a showcase tournament featuring 16 of the top pickleball players in the world from March 27-29. There will also be celebrity pro-am matches, all featured at the Open’s famous Bruce Buchholz court. Blake is a co-owner of MLP’s Milwaukee Mashers and friendly with the league board, but he’s hopeful that this tournament can help bring two sports that were historically at odds to come together.

“There’s this narrative that tennis and pickleball should sometimes be at odds with each other,” Blake said, “but I don’t know why they can’t coexist. I love the fact that they’re two racket sports where the hand-eye coordination is somewhat similar, but they’re very different sports. Anyone can play both, and me and my kids love playing both. I’m also hoping to enhance this bond and make it really grow.”

How the Game Has Changed & What to Expect in 2024

Since Blake retired from singles in 2013, social media’s growing ubiquity enables players to sign a lot more individual and organic endorsement and sponsorship deals that showcase and highlight their personalities. If you post about your morning coffee every day, Blake said, coffee brands can now partner with athletes who are authentically passionate about their product.

“I’m always a fan of players and athletes getting everything they can get out of their career,” he added, “because a lot of fans that watch don’t realize that careers are short for most athletes. So to make the most out of it is really important.”

As for overarching tennis trends in 2024, Blake is interested on the men’s side in how long Novak Djokovic can hang on while being pushed by young superstars like Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, and Daniil Medvedev. On the women’s side, Blake believes that Iga Swiatek, Coco Goff, Aryna Sabalenka, and Elena Rybakina have separated themselves from the pack. He wonders if any of that quartet will develop a signature rivalry that Sinner and Alcaraz have a chance to develop.

Along with Indian Wells, the Miami Open has become a top-level staple in tennis’ spring hard court schedule following January’s Australian Open.

Leading the move to Hard Rock has made the tournament an even bigger draw, combining the glitz and glamour of Miami with the luxury amenities the venue can provide. With pickleball on the horizon for the tournament’s second week and ticket sales and sponsorships at an all-time high, Blake continues to innovate and deliver, serving up a world-class experience for players, fans, and brands alike.

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Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.