The title truly says it all. Once you leave the park the craving to go back instantly hits you. This place is really addictive. From the palm trees to the beautiful views of the ocean and city to the big time tennis on court, it sure makes one feel like you never want to leave. Oh and did I mention the palm trees?
The Sony Open is the annual men’s and women’s professional tennis tournament held on the gorgeous Key Biscayne, just across the causeway from downtown Miami, Florida. This is a vital stop on the calendar for both the men and women as it is an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and WTA Premier 5 event. There are only a handful of tournaments that have this status and only two others in the United States including the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, OH. It is rare that the ATP and WTA calendars converge and play during the same time. Only these events along with the four prestigious Grand Slams are formatted this way, including the US Open, in New York City, NY.
The Sony Open is held at The Tennis Center at Crandon Park, which is a city owned facility and is home to 18 Laykold Cushion Plus courts (hard courts), and 4 red clay courts. The tournament is only played on the hard courts, 10 of which are used for match play and the remaining 8 for practice usage. The seating capacities of the match play courts are as follows: Stadium Court (the main stadium at the facility) seats 13,800, making it the third largest tennis specific stadium in the U.S. (behind Arthur Ashe Stadium, 22,547, at the US Open, and Stadium Court, 16,100, in Indian Wells), grandstand court-5,100, court one-2,450, court two-1,750, court three-550, courts four, five, and six-200, and courts seven, and eight-275. The only permanent stadium among these ten courts is Stadium Court. It’s not uncommon that tournaments this size utilize custom temporary seating stands similar to what is found at golf tournaments, since the tournament grounds are usually only used to host crowds of this size for two weeks out of the year.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food and beverage selection at tennis tournaments is one thing that really differentiates these types of events from other sporting events. Each tournament typically features a large food village where some of the most unique food to the area can be found. As seen in some of the photos, there are vendors spanning from national chains to local favorites, champagne lounge to beach bar to mojito lounge to picnic area. Whatever your heart may desire, you will be able to find a place to get away from the on-court action to relax and enjoy some of the world's finest cuisine. It is time well spent to look over your dining options at the Sony Open.
Bottom line: Although there are some amazing food and drink options available, be prepared to drop some serious dough. To put it bluntly, there's no cheap way to eat or drink while on the grounds of the tournament (or in the city of Miami for that matter).
Very similar to the city in which the Sony Open resides, there is a ton of energy surrounding the tournament, both on and around the grounds. This energy translates to an excellent experience at the tournament. The grounds are beautifully decorated with tennis themed murals and palm trees as well as giant photographs of the biggest champions of the game of tennis. Additionally, it is not uncommon that you will bump elbows with one of your favorite tennis stars on the grounds as they are scurrying off to a practice court or match. This factor adds a whole new dimension of excitement to sporting events, as it is common at tennis tournaments.
The neighborhood section for tennis tournaments deserves a little bit of an exception for a couple of reasons. First, each of the tournament sites worldwide is only used for tournament play for a maximum two week period per year. Secondly, each of the tournaments has an impressive food village within the grounds in which people visit throughout the day that they spend at the tournament. Typically, tennis fans aren't looking for a bar or restaurant to visit after the conclusion of play so this category is somewhat less important than with other sporting events.
Having said this, there is one excellent place within close proximity of the tournament grounds to be sure and pay a visit. The Rusty Pelican is a very upscale restaurant just off the Causeway, which overlooks downtown Miami. It is not uncommon to see large boats, speedboats, and even boat planes go by as you relax and enjoy the beautiful Miami skyline. I recommend attending a day session at the tournament and stopping here on your way back to the hotel to enjoy a cocktail in the evening as the sun sets.
Additionally, there are some great nearby attractions for a day off from tennis. You will actually pass the Miami Seaquarium on the Causeway as you approach the tournament, which is open from 9:30am to 6pm daily. The Miami Children's Museum is nearby as well.
Although there isn't a plentiful selection of nearby places to stop for a pre or post match drink and bite to eat, you are after all in Miami, where there are virtually unlimited wonderful places to do so. Everything in the city is only a short taxi ride away (which I would suggest over driving yourself).
Similarly to every other tennis tournament that I have attended, the fans are absolutely delightful. People travel from all over the world to not only cheer for their favorite players but also roar loudly for an entertaining match. Fans at tennis tournaments earn a high score as they always turn out in droves to show their support to the great sport being showcased.
The one point was given generously as the overall access to the stadium court is the only redeeming factor that kept this category from scoring a bagel.
From the very first impression of crossing the toll at the beginning of the Causeway one will be continuously reminded of the headache that is the accessibility of the tournament. The Rickenbacker Causeway is the only way to access Key Biscayne by car, which becomes a bottlenecked mess from 10am on, each day of the tournament. For those lucky enough to have a special parking permit, you will bypass the general parking and proceed to paved parking lots directly across from the main entrance. For the rest of the general public, you will want to keep to the far left lane as the general parking areas are actually located on the Virginia Key, not quite as close as the others which are actually on Key Biscayne along with the tournament.
General parking is $12 per day, which includes a shuttle ride to and from the entrance. If you plan to drive yourself to the tournament, plan to arrive at the tournament an hour prior to the time you wish to be on the grounds. The parking fiasco will delay your entrance greatly.
Once you've waited through the parking queue and finally parked, you will wait in another long queue for the shuttles, which are charter buses that don't maneuver well through all of the traffic. I suggest that while in line for the shuttle, to notice which lot you have been directed to park in. Each of the lots have been labeled by a letter indication. At the end of your session, you will be required to remember your respective lot as the shuttles service all lots.
If you're lucky enough to survive the parking process you will then be herded to the front entrance, but not before a nice 300-yard walk from the busses. Once you approach the entrance don't get too excited because there's more waiting thanks to the ticket takers and their stone-age method of checking tickets-tearing the bottom. I haven't seen anything like this in at least a decade. Not only was I surprised about this, but there wasn't anyone checking bags or telling people that they couldn't bring something in. Use this to your advantage-bring your own food and drinks!
Once inside the grounds, you'll have a much more enjoyable time getting around. Stadium Court is a joy from all standpoints: nice, comfortable seats with ample legroom, restrooms are plentiful and clean on every level, and concessions are available on the upper level. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the outer courts. Apart from grandstand court, all of the courts have extremely uncomfortable bleacher seating with very minimal legroom. Additionally, since the grounds are very crowded, you'll expect to wait in line for long periods of time to get in to see matches.
Look over the Sony Open site map before you attend to get a feel for the grounds once inside the entrance.
Bottom line-the way I see it; you have three options to get to the tournament and bypass the parking issues: arrive by boat to Virginia Key and take a taxi to the entrance, step up and pay the big bucks for an exclusive parking pass, or (the best option) stay at one of the hotels who provide a tournament shuttle (by calling the ticket office you can not only buy tickets but also make hotel reservations with the official tournament hotels, but do this early because these are the first hotels to fill up).
Overall, I paid about what I expected, and received a fair return. Certain things always have to be taken into consideration. In this case, the tournament is in Miami, a notoriously pricey city, and this is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world. For tickets, I would recommend buying the "Flex-4" package, which is your pick of 4 sessions from the middle weekend of the tournament. The seats are located in the 400 level of Stadium Court and are available for sessions 7-12. Depending on the varying ticket prices, you can expect to save up to 40% on each ticket from buying individual session tickets. This is the package that I went with and would strongly recommend it.
The tournament is located in Miami, Florida-need I say more?
The views from all angles atop Stadium Court are simply spectacular, as you'll see in the photos.
You'll find some of the best on grounds bars and restaurants of any tennis tournament in the world.
In addition to the tennis, there are other great events happening in Miami at this time. You could catch a Miami Heat game at American Airlines Arena, take a tour at the brand new, state of the art, Marlins Park, make a day out of exploring South Beach, or for those looking for a little more excitement, Ultra Music Festival downtown always overlaps with the tournament.
Miami is a wonderful, exciting city, with much more than just tennis going on, so take advantage of that and plan a trip to explore all of what Miami offers, but don't forget to stop at the Sony Open!
Here's a great video recap of the 2012 tournament from our friends at SB Nation.
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3201 Rickenbacker Causeway
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
4400 Rickenbacker Causeway
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
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