CARS HOMES JOBS

Nitty won't let tennis fade away

Friday, January 17, 2014
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There’s an avocado tree at Nitty Singh’s new winter residence in Naples, Fla.

There are 400 avocados on the tree, and they’re the size of footballs.

I know this because that’s what she told me.

Ever the promoter, Nitty is not necessarily in the arboretum bus­iness these days. She’s still very much in the tennis business, even as the last vestige of her World TeamTennis franchise was lobbed cross-country to San Diego on Thursday.

Owner Claude Okin sold the New York Sportimes to businessman Russell Geyser, who will rename them the Aviators for the 2014 season in July.

For over three decades, Singh has brought pro tennis in some form or other to various corners of the Capital Region, from its original site in Schenectady to Albany, Troy and Glens Falls.

It started as an actual ATP Tour stop — the OTB Open — which was a terrific event for this area, a gem of a tournament at a gem of a venue in Central Park. In the mid-1980’s, admission was free (not a typo).

Since then, Singh’s tennis venture gradually has had its skin peeled away and all the flesh scooped out until all we were left with was the stone.

The tour left, but Singh managed to parlay her myriad contacts and goodwill in pro tennis into a WTT franchise, first as the New York Buzz in 1995, then as the Sportimes in 2011 when she merged with the downstate team and gladly surrendered most of the home matches.

She was lucky to break even with a full home schedule of seven to nine matches, but when Okin offered to join forces and host the bulk of the matches downstate, Singh said yes, provided the matches here would feature star players. There were just two matches here in 2011 and 2012, then she was asked to shoulder more of them last summer.

Let’s face it, WTT is a glorified exhibition tour when compared to the regular tour. The format is built for fun, and the players are professional enough to take it just seriously enough, but this isn’t their real job so much as it is a means for the sport to reinforce its appeal in places like Schenectady and Albany.

That said, we were treated to some pretty cool stuff through WTT.

Some of the biggest stars in the history of the sport played here, albeit when they were retired and a little long in the tooth in some cases.

That’s fine. One of my all-time favorites, Pete Sampras, sat in the rose garden in Schenectady’s Central Park in 2007, and recounted how “I’ve come full circle. This is where it all started. I got to my first semi here.”

That was at the 1988 OTB Open, when he was 16 years old and tournament general manager Nitty Singh predicted that he would be No. 1 in the world someday.

Her options now include hosting a neutral-site WTT match (blech); an “all-star” exhibition featuring players pulled from WTT rosters (nah); a straight exhibition between two players on break from tour (only slightly intriguing); and a PowerShares Legends stop next winter (by far most likely).

This would include many of the usual suspects — Roddick, Lendl, Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe, Connors, Courier, Chang, etc.

WTT finally is gone, but I expect that Nitty, a tough nut to crack, will hold serve.

 

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