As a U.S. tennis fan based in the Southeast, it’s been refreshing to see more U.S. tournaments resurface on the tennis calendar over the past year. As a result of the pandemic, the shifting calendar has created new opportunities for tournament organizers eager to bring professional tennis to growing tennis communities around the country.
From Chicago and Cleveland to Lexington and San Diego, American tennis fans enjoyed a variety of new and exciting events in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, Dallas will be the newest U.S. city to host an ATP tournament under the helm of Tournament Director Peter Lebedevs.
Peter is no stranger to U.S. professional tennis, having managed ATP tournaments for over 30 years in Memphis, Atlanta, and New York before moving the tournament to Dallas. Learn more about Peter below and why he is bullish on bringing professional tennis to Dallas.
Getting to Know: Peter Lebedevs
- Over 30 years of experience working in professional tennis
- University of Memphis Graduate
- Tournament Director for the ATP Dallas Open, owned by GF Sports & Entertainment
- Previously served as Tournament Director for The New York Open, Assistant Tournament Director at the Atlanta Open and Tournament Director for The Memphis Indoor National Championships.
1. How is tournament preparation going?
As you can expect, we have a ton of balls in the air right now. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. It’s always busy for any tournament when you’re six or seven weeks away, especially when it’s never been done before. There are a lot of unknowns that will happen and we’ll do our best to figure out how to handle them when they come up.
Our courts are currently being resurfaced and repainted in Orlando with unique colors we’re excited to unveil when the tournament kicks off. We’re building our boxes and stands while ensuring all of our permits are completed and vendors are confirmed. We’re also still actively promoting new ticket packages, working on sponsorship sales, and confirming additional players to the lineup.
2. Why did you choose to relocate the New York Open to Dallas?
Dallas is a fantastic tennis market and we have a huge opportunity here to make an impact. At GF Sports & Entertainment, we are passionate about promoting and growing tennis in the U.S. We knew Texas was a great location based on its USTA presence and all of the positive stories we heard before we moved down. Once we got here, we realized it was even better than we expected.
Finding somewhere like Dallas that can promote tennis through the college circuit and throughout the city is great. We are thrilled to offer a wildcard to the SMU men’s tennis team, which presents a tremendous opportunity for their team and for our tournament. Ticket sales have been fantastic thus far; we’ve already sold out of the finals.
3. What qualities do you look for in a potential market when determining where to introduce a new tennis event?
Much of it ties back to the overall vision you want to carry out. In Dallas, we knew we wanted to host a more intimate event where fans can get closer to the players. As a result, that narrowed our search for a market and facility to fit this approach that is supportive of tennis.
We also look at cities who are supportive of professional sports teams and have a strong company presence actively supporting sporting events. Dallas checks all of these boxes and we’re excited about this new partnership. Dallas Sports Commission was very instrumental in our decision-making process as well. We are lucky to play at a world-class facility at the Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex. At the end of the day, everything lined up nicely and it made our decision easy.
4. Tell us about the player lineup so far. How crucial is John Isner to building credibility for the tournament given that he is based in Dallas?
John has been a tremendous asset and supporter of this tournament from day one. He was part of my initial tour of the facility when I first visited. Similar to what you see in golf tournaments, John will be a host of the tournament this year. His foundation, the Isner Family Foundation, will also serve as a nonprofit partner for the event.
John has been able to talk to fellow players and encourage them to play in Dallas. He’s my guy in the locker room helping me promote the tournament, which you don’t often see in tennis. Players can be hesitant to immediately jump on board for first-year tournaments, but having John fully behind us made this process far easier.
Apart from John, we’ve got a lot of big names on board so far with fellow-top ranked Americans Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz, as well as former top 10 players like Grigor Dmitrov and Kei Nishikori. We gave a wildcard to SMU standout Caleb Chakravarthi and expect to have a packed house on Tuesday night for College Night with local SMU students and fans cheering him on. We’re looking forward to adding more names to this mix and announcing a full player field in January.
5. What do you have planned off the court to keep the crowd entertained?
We are covering all six outside courts with one giant tent, which includes two practice courts. Fans will be able to walk in at eye level and watch the guys practice. Can you imagine watching John Isner hit practice serves at eye level?
That area will also serve as our hospitality village. We’ll have a great selection of food and beverages, a tennis simulator on site, merchandise store, and a stage with live music every night. We’re always trying to create more than tennis.
There will be fun and unique aspects you don’t see at other events. We’ve been working with the sports management class at SMU who has presented some creative marketing ideas that will mix things up a bit. They were excited to play a role in this process.
On changeovers and set breaks, we’ll honor locals who have made their mark on the Dallas tennis community. We’ll also have some T-shirt and ball tosses and other fun surprises in store. We’ll guarantee a fun time even while there isn’t live tennis.
6. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the years as a tournament director?
Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. For example, “What are you going to do if it starts raining? Well, we’ll stop play. It’s that simple.”
Keep relationships with everyone you can and treat others with the respect they deserve. We still have some of the same partners who have traveled with us from three different events – Memphis to New York to Dallas – because we’ve invested in those relationships. If I ask them something that needs to be done, I know I don’t have to think twice because they will handle it.
Always look to be creative. Just because you did it one way last year doesn’t mean you have to do it the same way this year.
Make the best decisions you can in difficult moments. No matter what you do, it’s hard to get everyone to like your decision. It’s important to focus on the 80 or 90 percent rule. I always run through each of these every year to make sure I’m following these learning lessons.
7. What are the most memorable moments from your career in professional tennis?
There are two that stand out. In my very first year as tournament director in Memphis, a gentleman had a heart attack in our stands. When that happened, our protocols went into place and everything worked terrific. He fortunately survived the incident.
You hope you never have to use your safety protocols but that’s why we have them in place. The next year, we brought him back to participate in the coin toss on stadium court for a match with Maria Sharapova. I always look back on that moment and think how special it was.
In 2011, Andy Roddick was set to play Milos Raonic in the Memphis finals. Nobody knew this, but about an hour before the match, I got a call from Andy’s agent who said he was sick and asleep in the locker room. “You may not have a final and need to come up with a backup plan,” he told me. Again, this was beyond our control so I tried not to worry about it, but it was hard as you could imagine.
Fortunately, Andy woke up, played the match, and it turned out to be the longest match we’ve had in finals history of the tournament. On match point, he dove to hit a forehand winner down the line and it ended up being the #2 shot of the year on Tennis Channel. We were very close to not having a final at all and it turned out to be the best final in tournament history. It’s pretty crazy how things work out the way they do sometimes.
ATP Dallas Open: February 6 – 13, 2022
To learn more and purchase tickets, visit dallasopen.com.