Organizer could move Italian Open tennis event to Milan
ROME (AP) After 80 years at the historic Foro Italico, the Italian Open tennis tournament could be headed to Milan.
Italian tennis federation president Angelo Binaghi threatened to make the move Wednesday, changing his tune after suggesting earlier this year that organizers were considering a new location near Rome's main airport.
The Foro Italico near the center of Rome has hosted the tournament since 1935.
However, with attendance soaring and no more room for outer courts, Binaghi is getting fed up with a lack of support from city authorities - accentuated by the resignation of Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino last week.
''On one side we would be crazy to leave this location but on the other hand we have to realize that the center of Italian tennis is Milan,'' Binaghi said, citing research that shows many more northerners in Italy play tennis than southerners. ''The tournament is here merely due to its history and tradition.
''I hope it doesn't happen and that we can find a solution to expand here,'' Binaghi added. ''But in Milan it would be much easier to expand rapidly.''
The tournament, a combined men's and women's event, is held each May - the last big warmup before the French Open. Organizers are hoping the event can be expanded to a 10-day ''mini slam'' by 2019.
Over the last decade, ticket sales increased by 375 percent.
''We're bursting at the seams here,'' Binaghi said. ''The tournament has grown exponentially over the last decade. We don't have any more room.''
The tournament could use a larger main stadium than the 10,500-seat arena that was inaugurated only five years ago. Binaghi also wants a retractable roof built for the main stadium.
Lined with neoclassical statues, the secondary Nicola Pietrangeli stadium is considered one of the most beautiful venues in tennis.
The federation's budget is expected to surpass 50 million euros ($57 million) this year. But the federation and the Italian Olympic Committee, the tournament's co-organizer, need the city's help to alleviate serious parking and transport problems.
Another big factor is Rome's candidacy for the 2024 Olympics. Under the bid plan, the Foro Italico would be used for athletics and aquatics.
''They are going to have to find an alternative venue,'' said Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations. ''Anything can happen but I think Binaghi is just sending a message.''
With Paris, Los Angeles, Hamburg and Budapest also bidding, the host of the 2024 Games will be chosen by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
''The Foro is OK for now but it's at the limit,'' added Ricci Bitti, who recently ended his term as president of the International Tennis Federation. ''It's a victim of its success over the last 10 years.''
Earlier this year, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova voiced player support for keeping the event at the Foro.
''Nothing is going to happen over the next months,'' Binaghi said. ''This is a long-term decision.''
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf