Yale News

After 21 years, professional tennis in New Haven has come to an end.

The Connecticut Open’s women’s tennis event — a premier tennis tournament held every August at Yale’s Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center since 1998 — will be sold to APG, a sports marketing and management company. The tournament will move to Zhengzhou, China, and will be hosted Sept. 9–15 of this year.

In recent years, the Connecticut Open — a state-owned, nonprofit tournament that operates as a charitable organization — struggled to find its financial footing. After looking for a title sponsor for months, the tournament was unable to secure the needed funds. In an interview with the News, tournament director Anne Worcester said the reason for the tournament’s departure from the Elm City is “100 percent economic.”

“It’s becoming more and more expensive to run a WTA event,” Worcester said. “The tennis center is very, very large and very expensive to get ready for a world-class tennis event.”

Worcester said the team spoke to dozens of prospective sponsors and was close to partnering with several, but said they were unable to secure the funding because it is a “very expensive price tag, a very large commitment and a challenging pitch.” Worcester said she spent 18 months seeking a title sponsor, insisting the tournament’s financial model was not sustainable without one.

The Tennis Foundation of Connecticut — the organization that operates the women’s tournament — will continue to seek a title sponsor for a future professional tennis event in the state. If a sponsor is found, they will look to host an event in 2020 — but one that is likely a lower level than the previously held Women’s Tennis Association’s Premier. In past years, the tournament drew big names, including highly ranked Simona Halep, Caroline Garcia and Petra Kvitová.

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

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. But this year the state’s funding dropped to just over $200,000.

The tournament’s closing may serve as a major financial loss for the Elm City and neighboring cities, as the tournament generates more than $10 million annually for New Haven County, according to Worcester.

Last year, the Connecticut Open was the third-most attended Women’s Tennis Association-only event in the world — 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. Last year’s tournament raised over $25,000 for various causes, including the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven and the Connecticut Food Bank. Additionally, 750 free final session tickets were donated to veterans and current members of the military.

Since the tournament began in 1998, Yale has served as one of the tournament’s main sponsors, aiding the Connecticut Open’s various fundraising efforts. The annual Salovey-Swensen Extravaganza is a major fundraiser that the University and tournament host together during the competition. Funds raised are reinvested into Yale’s “community-based activities,” according to a University press release. This year it raised $1.6 million; it has raised more than $18 million since the event began in 1998.

Every year, the tournament gives a spot to a collegiate player from the University. Caroline Dunleavy ’21, a member of the Yale varsity tennis team, first went to the Open when she was 8 years old. After attending it almost every year since, last year she was given the chance to play in it alongside the top 100 players in the world.

“My experience was so special, and to compete alongside the best players in the world on Yale’s courts was so motivating,” Dunleavy told the News. “The tournament has been such a great source of inspiration for my tennis-playing and for so many other girls in the New England section, and I am sad that young girls in the area won’t have the opportunity to have the same experience,” she added.

Dunleavy also extended her gratitude to Worcester, and said that she was a major part in making the tournament so special and successful.

The Women’s Tennis Association was founded in 1973.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu