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Off the Court with James Blake: Miami Open Director Shares Perspective on the Miami Open

Miami Living Magazine sat down with James Blake, the Director of the Miami Open, to delve into what fans can expect this year, provide an overview of the tournament, and highlight activities for fans to enjoy.

Markin Abras: Reflecting on the past 4 years since the relocation of the Miami Open from Key Biscayne to Hard Rock Stadium, what notable transformations have you observed (challenges, advances, etc.)?

James Blake: I think the Miami Open presented by Itaú has really settled into its home at the Hard Rock Stadium. Obviously, it was a big move at the time and it’s a very different setup from Key Biscayne, but the facilities in place for the players and fans at Hard Rock Stadium are second to none, and the move overall has been a big success. The players are now able to take advantage of all the best-in-class facilities in position for the Dolphins year-round, and the campus itself has been developed and expanded in the past four years, offering guests what I think is one of the best on offer at any events. We are able to bring together all that Miami has to offer for what I believe is the most culturally immersed tennis festival on the tour circuit.

MA: What are some lesser-known behind-the-scenes efforts that you are personally involved in making the Miami Open a world-class tennis tournament?

James Blake: It’s pretty much everything from player liaison to player experience and facilities to operations to match scheduling and planning. When I played on Tour, I literally had no understanding of the amount of planning, preparations, and work that go into delivering a successful tournament of this magnitude. We are lucky to have the experienced team at IMG in place at Hard Rock Stadium year-round working day-to-day on the operations side of the event, and although it is a big job, I love the challenge and working with our team to make the Miami Open presented by Itaú even better every year.

MA: As the Director of the Miami Open, what have been some formidable obstacles and moments you have encountered thus far?

James Blake: I think the move to the Hard Rock Stadium was the most formidable moment, uprooting a successful tournament with the intention of giving it the space to develop and grow was a necessary move for the future of the event. It was unknown territory for me, and it has been a steep learning curve, but it’s a process I have enjoyed being a part of very much. There are so many aspects to operating a tournament of this level and scale that, as a player, you don’t tend to give too much thought to, but I have loved learning about it. I feel really comfortable in this role now as I head into my 6th year as Tournament Director and proud of everything our team has achieved so far.

MA: This year sees the introduction of Wheelchair Tennis and Major League Pickleball at the Miami Open. Could you shed some light on the decision-making process behind these additions?

James Blake: The second week is incredibly exciting on the show courts, but there is obviously less going on on the outside courts, and we wanted to make sure there is still plenty going on for the fans on grounds passes to watch and enjoy. Wheelchair tennis is so skillful and is an absolutely phenomenal watch; it’s now a big part of the Grand Slams, and we definitely wanted to incorporate it into the Miami Open, so we are delighted it is making its debut this year.

We will be looking to build and expand the wheelchair competition next year, and we are very fortunate to have a legend of the game, Shingo Kunieda, step in as the Tournament director to help navigate this integration. The Major League Pickleball Showcase is another great addition for fans. It’s growing in popularity in the US right now, especially among tennis players, so it makes a great addition to the programming.

MA: Looking ahead to this year’s tournament, what can Miami Open fans anticipate in terms of new events/experiences and offerings?

James Blake: First and foremost, tennis is going to be amazing – the world’s best men and women competing in one of the most important events in tennis. From Medvedev to Sinner to Sabalenka to Gauff to all the US players in the field, it is a very exciting time for tennis right now as the younger players are establishing themselves at the top echelons of the game. We will miss our defending women’s champion Petra Kvitova this year, but it is for the very happy reason that she is expecting her first child.

There is no doubt this year that we have stepped up the off-court offerings with pop-ups of around 30 of Miami’s top bars and restaurants, as I mentioned earlier, showing up all around campus. The choice is unreal, and although there are way too many to mention, newcomers this year include David Chang’s Fuku Chicken, Cheeseburger Baby, Ella’s Oyster Bar, Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Garden, No.3 Gin Lounge, and Milos, the first premium bookable dining option at the tournament.

Don’t worry, all the firm favorites are returning too such as Sushi Maki, Kiki on the River, and Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, the Dobel Tequila Bar, the Botran Rum Lounge, Santa Margherita, and all the amazing food trucks in The Grove. There are new sponsors and new activations at every turn for fans to enjoy, in between watching all the world-class tennis on the 10 Championship courts!

Left to right: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Alcaraz, and Chad Ochocinco; Coco Gauff and Jimmy Butler; Jon Bon Jovi; Maluma

MA: Can you share some memorable interactions or moments you’ve had with Stephen M. Ross?

James Blake: I think the biggest moment was in 2019 moving the tournament to Hard Rock Stadium and together with our teams, creating the first stadium court within an NFL Stadium.

MA: What tips would you offer to Miami Open attendees to enhance their overall enjoyment and make the most of their experience at the tournament?

James Blake: I think wearing a comfy pair of shoes would be my number one tip as there is so much to see around campus. Even if you are lucky enough to have tickets for the stadium, make sure you take the time to walk around and enjoy everything on offer at the event as I think the spectator experience this year really is the best we’ve ever lined up and there is so much to see.

MA: Departing from tennis-centric topics, how do you unwind and recharge yourself?

James Blake: Spending time with my family is the way I mainly spend my time away from tennis.

I still enjoy playing tennis – although I retired some ten years ago, the last couple of years I have been hitting with Stanford rising star Hudson Rivera – he even got me back into competition last year when we played doubles together in an ITF event! I also enjoy playing golf, basketball, pickleball, and watching pretty much all sports, especially the New York Mets, and playing a bit of poker from time to time.

MA: Finally, any personal favorite places you like to go in Miami?

James Blake: I love going out to eat downtown Miami, the atmosphere and vibe are always amazing, but most of my favorites will be coming on campus this year with pop-ups, so for the last two weeks in March, the Hard Rock Stadium will be my favorite place to be!


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By Markin Abras | Photos by Miami Open Presented by Itaú


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