In many folks’ eyes, it was quite a gamble. But Jordan Butler never saw it that way. He had a women’s tennis tournament that was flat-lining in terms of interest, so he figured if he thought outside the box and it didn’t work, he wasn’t any worse off than when he started.
By bringing in musician Redfoo as an investor and using his “Party Rock” brand to spice things up, Las Vegas’ only pro tennis event saw a spike in overall attendance by nearly 15 percent in 2012 while creating a fun vibe throughout the Darling Tennis Center.
“The players loved it, and I think most of the fans loved it,” Butler said. “We hoped that the fans and the players would embrace the concept. Fortunately for us, they did.”
Whether it was the music, the loud clothes, the move to the Darling Tennis Center from the Red Rock Country Club or the nice storyline of Lauren Davis beating Shelby Rogers in the singles final, the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event got renewed energy pumped into it.
And when this year’s event begins today, Butler and co-director Tyler Weekes want to keep the momentum moving forward.
In addition to the matches that begin at noon daily, there will be a night session starting at 6 p.m. and running through Saturday’s second semifinal. Butler said the tournament wants to take advantage of the cooler weather and make sure those who attend enjoy themselves.
“It’s an atmosphere thing,” he said. “We want to take advantage of the lights. The weather’s cooler. The music’s going. The drinks are flowing. It’s like an extended tennis happy hour.”
Redfoo won’t be around this year. But his persona will live on as DJs spin music, the oversized glasses, short shorts and high socks wardrobe will be on display by the staff and the ball kids, and everything is loose and upbeat.
“We got a lot of positive feedback,” Butler said. “The players got a gift bag with Party Rock gear, and they really liked the swag. But we all know that at the end of the day, it’s about the tennis, and we want to have as strong a field as we can.”
To that end, Butler was at the U.S. Open trying to persuade players to come to Las Vegas. He couldn’t get Davis back to defend her title. She is competing for bigger money at WTA events in Asia. But Rogers will return, and there’s a lot of talent that’s showing up, including several very good U.S. players.
Maria Sanchez, who jumped more than 550 spots in the WTA computer rankings a year ago and is ranked No. 111, is in the field. So is CoCo Vandeweghe, the niece of former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe, who defeated Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli in Mexico in April.
Grace Min, who played in this year’s French Open and U.S. Open, is in the field as are Melanie Oudin, Jessica Pegula and Taylor Townsend, the former world’s top junior player.
In doubles, Las Vegan Asia Muhammad and her partner Allie Will are in the main draw. Muhammad was trying to qualify to earn a spot in the singles main draw. Monday, she defeated Finland’s Piia Suomalanien, 6-2, 6-1, and will play fellow American Briana Morgan at 1:30 today on the Stadium Court to see who gets in.
Not as fortunate was Coronado High senior Gabby Smith, who lost Monday to American Denise Muresan 6-1, 6-2. Smith is headed to Southern California on a tennis scholarship next year. The top ranked player in the field is Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, No. 88 in the world.
Butler said the goal remains to become part of the WTA Tour. To do that wold take an additional financial commitment. For next year, he hopes he can bump up the prize money from $50,000 to $100,000 to draw some top-40 players.
“One step at a time,” he said. “First was to make sure we could keep the tournament going. And with Redfoo’s help, we’ve done that. Now we’re looking to move up. Eventually, we’d like to be part of the WTA, and I believe that with the public’s support of our tournament, we can eventually get there.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.