Tour Wife Tales with Kelsey Anderson: What Makes A Great Tournament?

After coming off an unbelievable week for Team Anderson, I would like to take this opportunity to sing the praises of an event that, in my option, epitomizes what every ATP tournament should strive to become. The Winston-Salem Open, after just three years in existence, has become easily one of my favorite stops on tour. While I was telling one of my volunteer drivers this evening how much I really love this event, he stopped to ask me, “Why?”

Although it was a relatively unassuming question, I realized that there is no simple answer. I could easily rattle off 20 things I love about this event, but encompassing the overall reasons that this tournament is a cut above the rest was not so simple. Over the next few hours I considered the following question: “what makes an ATP tournament exceptional?”

So, without sounding ungrateful or disrespectful, I want to address the topic of player satisfaction with tournaments. Of course I would love to project to fans the sugarcoated notion that we look forward to each and every ATP event with the same level of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, if I am being honest, not every tournament is created equal. Some tournaments do a markedly better job at accommodating players, their teams and their families.

With 67 tournaments in the calendar year, we experience a vast spectrum of tournament quality and varying degrees of overall enjoyment or satisfaction. Without the first-hand experience of it all, it might be difficult for my readers to really understand the difference between an ok tournament, a good tournament, and a GREAT tournament, but I will do my best to break it down. Please bear in mind that my own experiences have been limited to the tournaments in Kevin’s calendar schedule.

The 4 Majors and 10 Masters Series events definitely have a leg up at meeting players’ needs. They typically have large budgets, impressive facilities, and excellent organization. It is therefore harder for the smaller events to always stack up against the larger tournaments, but a number of them understand the basics well and do a terrific job. For one, a tournament needs to focus on helping players take care of the basics: eating, sleeping, and playing tennis.

With respect to eating, a tournament is expected to provide a basic level of reasonably healthy fare for players to consume on site. However, many tournaments miss the mark on realizing how heavily good food resonates with players. I have already written a blog about this topic, and which tournaments really excel in player dining options. A tournament is always going to receive bonus marks if they allow players’ teams and guests to eat free-of-charge, or at reasonable pricing. Some events take it even further by reaching out to the community to offer off-site dining specials at local restaurants. Players, who spend a considerable amount of time and effort worrying about where and what to eat, really appreciate when tournaments go above and beyond to simply their dining choices.

When I say that a tournament must also cover the basic “sleeping” requirements, I’m referring to the fact that tournament hotels simply must be clean and comfortable. I will go out on a limb and say that all the ATP tournaments meet this minimum requirement without difficulty, but where they fall short is whether or not that accommodation is affordable for additional rooms, and located in close proximity to the site. Players often have to pay for one or more extra rooms for their support staff, and few tournaments seem to accommodate players with more than one covered hotel room. Unfortunately, hotel rates have been a hotly contested issue on tour lately. Nothing frustrates a player more than when the tournament-contracted hotel rate exceeds the rate they can book online for the same room. Keeping room rates affordable is an easy way for tournaments to make life easier on players who have a tremendous amount of travel expenses. Additionally, players really appreciate when a hotel is located in close proximity to the site. The best: If you can walk to the site. Great: 5-10min drive. A drag: 20 minutes or more in the car each way.

Finally, it probably sounds quite obvious to say that a tournament must meet basic standards for playing tennis, but a surprising number of events fall short on this. For one, a site must have ample practice and match court facilities. Nothing is worse than when players feel they need to fight for court time, or when matches are overbooked and run late into the night. If off-site courts are used, they MUST be the same finish as the on-site courts (should be a given, but some tournaments shockingly still do not do this). A tournament site will also exceed player expectations if it offers adequate gyms and warm-up areas for players, physiotherapy and recovery treatment areas, as well as comfortable and well-equipped locker rooms with showers. Also important is efficient transportation to and from the tennis facilities.

Beyond covering these bare bones essentials, tournaments can distinguish themselves by excelling in other areas such as having great fans, superb volunteers or perhaps some “x-factor” unique to that event.

Spectacular fans always make for a more entertaining tournament. It seems that, especially in the USA these days, interest in professional tennis is waning and filling seats at tournaments is an exceedingly difficult task. Nothing adds to the vibe, fun and enjoyment of a tournament for me than a packed stadium, good music, food, and a overall festival atmosphere. Aside from the slams and Masters Series which all have superb fans and atmosphere, tournaments that do incredibly well in this regard are Brisbane, Auckland, Acapulco, Aegon Championships at Queens, Winston-Salem and Vienna.

Friendly, accommodating staff and volunteers always make for a special tournament. When the tournaments go out of their way to make players feel welcomed and appreciated, it really adds to the enjoyment of the week. As an example, the Stockholm Open approaches the handling of player needs with the attitude of “try to accommodate every request within reason”. Other events where I’ve gotten the impression that nothing is too much to ask include Hopman Cup, Australian Open, Aegon Championships at Queens, Winston-Salem Open, and Shanghai Rolex Masters. We haven’t been to the World Tour Finals yet, but by all accounts they surpass all others in this regard; hopefully this will be our year to find out first-hand (fingers crossed!).

Finally, some tournaments have a special “x-factor” that makes the event really special. As an example, some tournaments install pop-up mini-salons in the player lounge where tournament guests can get an express manicure or haircut. Another special treat that comes to mind is at Queens they extend an incredible laundry service where clothing comes back neatly folded, pressed and packaged. A final example is that the Winston-Salem Open arranges for transportation for the Men’s Singles finalists to New York City on a private plane each year. With the close proximity to US Open first round just days after the final, this special travel extravagance is greatly appreciated by the players year after year. It is impossible to put into words how much this generous gesture meant to our entire team.

Traveling week to week can be harried and tough, and our team genuinely values all the efforts made by tournaments to provide excellence for players. It takes a special group of organizers to place an emphasis on player satisfaction, and it certainly does not go unnoticed. I’m looking forward to another spectacular week as we start the US Open tomorrow!

Let me know in the comments below what you think makes a tournament “special” for fans and spectators. You can also email me at

10 Responses

  1. Barbara
    Barbara September 1, 2015 at 7:39 pm |

    Kelsey, I worked at the transportation desk during the Winston Salem Open and I appreciate your kind words. We all take great pride in making the player’s stay in Winston Salem enjoyable.

  2. karel chandler
    karel chandler September 1, 2015 at 7:58 pm |

    I was the driver that tried to find you an Asian restaurant on Sunday night but all was closed.
    I enjoyed meeting you so glad you did so well in Winston Salem, good luck in New York and see you
    in Winston Salem next year!!

  3. Steven Hollingsworth
    Steven Hollingsworth September 1, 2015 at 8:59 pm |

    Hey Kelsey, Wow what a great answer to my question! It has been so exciting for me to have had the opportunity to have picked Anderson Team up at the airport last year and then to have had the good fortune to take you to the airport as you were heading to the US Open this year. I think I could freely speak for all at the Winston Salem Open, players and their team that show appreciation makes it even better for us, knowing we left a good impression and hope they will want to return again! As you know I am a fan, and what a high light for me when I was invited to sit with you all at the Village Tavern. Look forward to seeing you all again next year!!!!!

  4. qthetennisfan (@qthetennisfan)
    qthetennisfan (@qthetennisfan) September 1, 2015 at 9:05 pm |

    I think having a relatively packed crowd is nice, such that I’m not the only person clapping/cheering a player’s winner 🙂

  5. Barbara Miller
    Barbara Miller September 1, 2015 at 9:13 pm |

    I’m the other Barbara in transportation who worked the desk late afternoons and evenings/nights. We appreciate your kind words, especially because we have such awesome volunteers who will do everything possible to be helpful and love doing it. Of course it’s icing on the cake when we get to work with such a class act as Team Anderson. Wishing you great things in NY and beyond!

  6. Barbara Miller
    Barbara Miller September 1, 2015 at 9:15 pm |

    Oops, forgot to mention that I was part of the transportation team at the Winston Salem Open!

  7. Kris
    Kris September 1, 2015 at 11:18 pm |

    I really just love your point of view, Kelsey. Such a treat to peek behind the curtain sometimes! Thanks for a fun blog

  8. patrick cunningham
    patrick cunningham September 1, 2015 at 11:21 pm |

    My wife and I drove from Orlando to attend the WS Open for the 3rd time. We always are I impressed with the set up and the awesome staff. We always use the Hampton in or Hilton Garden Inn at the Hands mall, great location, great rates and great properties! Congrats to Kevin for the win and the fantastic tennis. We look forward to many more years and wins. Very interesting article and thanks for writing it and giving us the opportunity to hear from your perspective!

  9. Don Robbie
    Don Robbie September 6, 2015 at 5:48 pm |

    I just love your blog – such a great and personal insight to life tour!
    Your blog has been highlighted on BBC News Website today (Tennis section of the Sport area) and so pleased to find it.
    As an H.R Consultant I totally agree with your article on professionalism – whether about being a sport professional or an employee.
    One small admission…. as an IT numpty, how do I subscribe to your blog as I don’t see a link for email alert. Best wishes to you, Kevin and the team for tomorrow (despite being a Scot and an Andy fan!!)

  10. Ryan Whelan
    Ryan Whelan September 7, 2015 at 3:29 pm |

    Hi Kelsey,

    I worked at Wimbledon this year for evian and as a South African I am right behind big KA. Lets hope 2015 continues to be successful for your team! Great blog by the way.

    Best wishes,

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