Competing for top players a tough racket for Family Circle Cup
On her first trip to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, tennis great Samantha Stosur just happened to catch a foul ball.
“I don’t know if Bob pre-planned that, but it turned out well,” recalled Stosur, the 2010 Family Circle Cup champion.
It would surprise exactly nobody if Bob Moran, the Family Circle Cup tournament director, had somehow arranged for that foul ball to land in Stosur’s lap during their trip to Yankee Stadium.
And maybe it’s no coincidence that Stosur, eating dinner at famed Charleston restaurant FIG over the weekend, had the table right next to TV star Sofia Vegara.
Moran and colleague Eleanor Adams, the tournament manager, work the phones and relationships with equal fervor to maintain a top-notch field at the Family Circle Cup, celebrating its 41st birthday this week on Daniel Island.
No. 1-ranked Serena Williams and eight other top 25 players on the WTA Tour are at the Family Circle Cup this week. That’s no mean feat, given the awkward spot the Family Circle Cup has on the WTA calendar — just after Indian Wells and Miami, both two-week events that leave road-weary players ready to head for home.
“We’re in a competition, a competition for players,” Moran said. “We’re in a tough spot as the last event in the U.S. before they head to Europe. A lot of the players have been on the road for seven or eight weeks, and they are ready to go home.”
The recruiting battle for players got tougher this year with the move of a tournament in Mexico, the Monterrey Open, to a spot opposite the Family Circle Cup on the WTA Tour schedule.
Though that tournament is smaller — 32 players and a $235,000 purse, compared with 64 and $795,707 at the Family Circle Cup — it is direct competition.
The Monterrey Open landed world No. 3 Victoria Azarenka, though she pulled out of the event with injury, and No. 11 Marion Bartoli, who has played on Daniel Island many times.
“They have a beautiful resort down there, and though it’s a smaller event, it is competition for us,” Moran said.
“They made a decision to go after Azarenka as their premier player.
“We’d love to have her here, but we also recognize that Venus and Serena, as past champions here, are very important to us.
“And then Azarenka had to withdraw. People think that happens only in Charleston, but it happens everywhere.”
The year-round effort at building relationships paid off in a couple of ways this year.
After Serena, who won FCC titles in 2008 and 2012, defeated Maria Sharapova for the Sony Open title in Miami on Saturday, some speculated that she might not make it to Daniel Island.
But Serena was present and accounted for Monday, extolling the virtues of Charleston and anticipating a semifinal meeting with sister Venus.
And Moran scored a last-minute coup, getting No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki, the 2011 FCC champ, to accept a late wild card.
When Wozniacki’s boyfriend, 2012 PGA champ Rory McIlroy, decided to forgo a mission trip to Haiti this week in order to play golf in San Antonio, Wozniacki suddenly had a free week.
Moran was in constant touch with her agent, and the Family Circle Cup was able to capitalize.
Wozniacki will be at the Masters next week to watch McIlroy compete for the green jacket, but not before she delights the fans at Stadium Court.
“It’s a big deal for any tournament to get as good of a field as they can,” said Stosur, who is ranked No. 9.
“Players don’t need much arm-twisting to want to come back to this event. I always love my time here, and Bob and Eleanor do a great job during the year to get the bigger names to their event.”
Some tournaments have been known to award new Porsches to top 10 players who play in their event (Stuttgart, anyone?) Moran can’t compete with that, but he credits the city of Charleston and its people as advantages in his recruiting battles. Now, he can add guaranteed foul balls and random celebrity sightings to his arsenal.
“That,” Stosur said, “was pretty cool.”