Charleston sets good example for Miami

The Green Clay at the Family Circle Cup is a welcome sight this time of year. Jake Drake/Icon SMI

Miami likes its heat, both in the air and on the basketball court, but could probably do without the criticism its tennis tournament has recently received.

The Sony Open gave us two No. 1 vs. No. 2 singles finals (along with two men’s semifinal walkovers), but an unavoidable takeaway from the event is that it’s falling further behind its western rival, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, in terms of prestige and opinion.

Things aren’t at a boiling point for Miami, not with its coveted Masters 1000 designation, but renovations to the aging facilities are needed. Paul-Henri Mathieu called Miami the “most regressed tournament” on Twitter, after saying that Indian Wells was the “most improved tournament for the last decade.”

Of greater concern was this blunt assessment from tournament director Adam Barrett: “We want to stay in South Florida but we don’t want to run a second-class or third-tier event.”

For many reasons, Miami is not Indian Wells, and it shouldn’t look towards the Coachella Valley for inspiration. Yes, its $50 million renovation plans should take cues from Larry Ellison’s ideas, but Miami needs to differentiate from Indian Wells, not imitate it. It should, however, look to imitate a different American tournament in one significant way.

Which brings me to this week’s Family Circle Cup in Charleston. Now its 42nd year, the green-clay tournament has been an unqualified success story at a time when tournaments are leaving the United States in droves. It is the longest-running pro tournament sponsored by the same company, punches well above its weight in the fields it draws -- 15 of the 16 seeds in this year’s event are in the Top 40 -- and receives rave reviews from players.

And from this fan as well. Sadly, I won’t be attending the Family Circle Cup for the first time in five years, but I’ll be watching the women kick off the clay-court season on green Har-Tru. The surface is a pleasure to play on -- it’s easy to move around and forces you to hit a lot of shots -- and gives the U.S. something no other tournament offers. Think of Charleston as everything that Madrid wasn’t, when that tournament infamously switched to blue clay for one year.

I also think of Charleston as everything that Miami should be, only on a much smaller scale. Har-Tru has a long history in the state of Florida, and using it would be a natural way for Miami to evolve and create some much-needed buzz. Changing to clay would also be seamless from a calendar perspective, with the red-clay season beginning in Europe shortly after Miami’s conclusion (along with Charleston, of course).

Instead of ending a long hard-court slog, Miami could become the kickoff of the clay-court season. For that reason, I believe a surface switch would go over well with players, particularly those from South America who grew up on clay and receive tremendous support from the Latin-heavy crowds in Miami.

If Indian Wells serves as the entrée in the post-Australia hard-court meal, Miami is the third helping I didn’t really need. Charleston is something entirely different, the pecan-filled desert.

Enjoy it this week, perhaps with a sweet tea vodka, and hope that Miami comes to its senses and goes green.