The future of the Connecticut Open — a premier tennis tournament held every August at Yale’s Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center since 1998 — is unclear.

According to Connecticut Open tournament director Anne Worcester, the event cannot continue to operate if it does not find increased funding. The tournament, which is a nonprofit charitable organization, is currently seeking a title sponsor and evaluating options for how it can continue to operate.

“We got through 2018 without a title sponsor, and that will definitely not happen again,” Worcester said in an interview with the News. “It’s been an amazing 21-year run, but it is really expensive and challenging to keep this plane in the air. We all certainly hope that we can continue to run, but without a major sponsor, I can’t make any promises that it will.”

From 1998 to 2010, the tournament was sponsored by Pilot Pen — a Japanese stationery company. After Pilot Pen pulled out of the tournament, the men’s sanction was sold to a tournament in North Carolina in 2011. The now women’s-only event was renamed the “New Haven Open at Yale.” In 2014, it was renamed the Connecticut Open.

In 2013, the state of Connecticut purchased the rights to host the tournament for $618,000 after the program was nearly sold by the United States Tennis Association to a tournament in North Carolina. The state’s funding dropped to just above $200,000 this year — and Worcester said that the state is pushing for the tournament to be self-sustaining by 2020.

This year’s tournament hosted five out of the top 10 players in the world, including Simona Halep, Caroline Garcia and Petra Kvitová. While the state plans to pull out its funding of CT Open, the tournament’s closing would serve as a major financial loss for the Elm City and neighboring cities.

Worcester said that the tournament generates more than $10 million annually for the New Haven County. It was the third-most attended Women’s Tennis Association-only event in the world this year — with attendance topping 50,000 for the fourth consecutive year.

The Connecticut Open uses its draw of world-class women’s tennis to “benefit the community and maximize support for women’s, youth and Military causes in Connecticut,” according to the tournament’s website.

The 2018 tournament raised over $25,000 this year for various causes, including the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven, the Connecticut Food Bank and 750 free, final session tickets were donated to veterans and current members of the military.

Since the tournament began in 1998, Yale has been one of the tournament’s sponsors and aids the Connecticut Open’s various fundraising efforts. The annual Salovey-Swensen Extravaganza is a major fundraiser that Yale and the tournament host together during the program. All of the money raised is reinvested into Yale’s community-based activities. This year it raised $1.6 million; it has raised more than $18 million since its beginning.

Every year, the tournament gives a spot in the tournament to a collegiate player from the University. Caroline Dunleavy ’21 said that to play in the Connecticut Open alongside the top 100 players in the world was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Dunleavy added that the Connecticut Open is one of the most major women’s tournaments.

“For the Connecticut Open to shut down would really hurt women’s tennis, which is already struggling,” Dunleavy said. “It would be incredibly sad to take away a tournament that can not only inspire young girls in Connecticut to play tennis, but also inspire women everywhere.”

In order to reflect the tournament’s values, the Open is primarily seeking out companies that work for women’s causes in its search for a sponsor, according to Worcester. The tournament plans to make major decisions by the end of the year.

The tournament has cut back on a few full-time staff members in order to cut costs. Decisionmakers are also considering lowering the tournament’s prize money and changing the Open’s date to July to avoid conflict with the beginning of Yale’s semester and the U.S. Open.

Even with these changes, Worcester said that the costs will still be too great for the tournament to run.

“We need a title sponsor to make the financial model work, which is why we’re doing everything we can to maximize cash, minimize expenses and to extend the runway to evaluate all of these possibilities to ensure that professional tennis will stay in New Haven,” Worcester said.

The Women’s Tennis Association was founded in 1973.

Caroline Moore  |