By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – Fans who arrived early Friday for the afternoon and night sessions, or were trying to kill time in between the two, were treated to some bonus entertainment on a day that featured just four matches.
Whether it was watching some of the world’s best pro beach volleyball players play an exhibition, checking out a fashion show, or posing for pictures with celebrity chefs, many congregated at the Miami Open Experience – the tournament’s new venue just west of stadium court – throughout the day.
Beach volleyball drew an especially large crowd, with spectators lining the sand court to watch players including three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, Olympic gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, and Olympic silver medalists April Ross and Jennifer Kessy play three-on-three.
The 2015 AVP season will start Memorial Day weekend.
“We’ve played at a tennis arena before, but not when tennis is going on, so this is really fun,” Ross said. “The fans, I think, appreciate both. There’s definitely a base there that’s similar and this is just different enough for them to come out and watch when tennis isn’t happening. They seemed to really enjoy it.”
Added Walsh-Jennings: “This just feels like an authentic fit, like we belong here. I feel like the tennis fans aren’t allowed to cheer so much and so loud in [the stadium], so they get loud out here with us.”
Ross said she feels three days of volleyball on the sand just outside stadium court has made new fans of the sport here at Crandon Park Tennis Center. “That’s why we’re here,” she said.
“Our problem is we need to get in front of more people,” Walsh-Jennings noted, “because when they see us once, they tend to love us. We’re so accessible and it’s so fan – sexy and family and everything all in one. We’re really happy to be here to touch new fans.”
Minutes after a full day of volleyball ended at 6:30 p.m., super model turned fashion designer Tori Praver’s runway show promoting her new swimwear line started a few yards away. Praver, a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model (2007-09), showed her new collection, which was inspired by Indian and Morrocan vibes mixed with her signature floral prints.
Earlier in the day, this year’s SI swimsuit cover girl, Hannah Davis, hit some tennis balls with the world’s No. 7 ranked women’s player, Eugenie Bouchard, and then signed autographs for fans. Davis, a competitive tennis player as a teenager, won a set against now-world No. 33 Coco Vandeweghe during a USTA 14-and-under junior event in 2004.
Also Friday, celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio, Scott Conant, and Josh Capon met with fans. The three chefs, along with Michelle Bernstein, have each had two of their dishes on the menu at “Taste of the Open” this week.