In 2018 the greatest beach tennis event Aruba Beach Tennis Open has its first big anniversary - 10 years. And yet nobody in the world could beat or copy its success. In this interview, one of the main organizers Sjoerd De Vries shares few secrets of past, present and future of the tournament just from his office above the central court.
How the things started?
We started 10 years ago and firstly played beach tennis with the paddles before we have changed to beach tennis rackets. What happened is that we connected the sport of beach tennis with the party atmosphere just from the very beginning. It wasn’t someone’s choice, it just happened because we were playing at “Moomba beach” which is the party place with a restaurant on the beach. And that is where we organized an event and it appeared as such a successful formula that we kept that party part. Everybody had such a nice time: drink and dance.
Next year we made a party even bigger and during the matches, we started to use DJ. The audience really loved it, but it was strange for the pro players because we were the onliest ones who were doing it. And they didn’t like it. But then they saw the reactions and how many people were coming. So they agreed. We never stepped away from that formula. And now we are very happy to see that this way of organizing beach tennis events is converted into regulated step. Even at the higher levels of ITF or Olympic committee they like it, they see this is a successful formula.
How you would organize an event if it wasn’t in Aruba, but let’s say Northern Europe?
I am from the Netherlands, so I can relate to the atmosphere there. Automatically it would have more serious stuff, but it doesn’t mean that people in the Netherlands don’t like a party atmosphere. They love it. And if it’s offered to them in the right way, they will enjoy it just as much as we do here. Actually, beach volley proved it. Beach volley events in northern countries are doing amazing. People go there for the same reason: “oh yeah, we can do a little party”. But what I would do? I would try to build a Caribbean atmosphere in the northern countries. Try to implement more to get the feeling you are escaping the reality of northern countries. Put fake palapas... I would call it “driftwood style events”.
Does that mean “Aruba” creates the style of beach tennis?
I wouldn’t say so, but that would be a great honor. I do think beach tennis needs a certain standard format of the events. And we would be very happy to share our knowledge and our experience with other tournament organizers around the world. Because we do know what is working and what is not. We have a lot of experience. And we learn by trial and error.
What are the examples of things that don’t work?
You can’t force things. You always have to fill the audience. If the audience doesn’t want to party you can’t make a party. When we are sitting at the central court and the crowd is not reacting, we slow down automatically. And then you wait for the score and then when the score is getting more exciting than you can go.
So you can’t just put a DJ. We saw it in other events, that tried to copy Aruba. So there was a DJ he starts at 10 o’clock and plays music super loud. And he starts to create a party atmosphere at 11 am, for example. Of course, it’s a very extreme example, but you can not - you have to build. And our DJs know it. We work with 5 different DJs cause they cannot play longer than 4 hours, they are exhausted. It’s a job: they constantly are trying to find the right songs. There is a whole playlist for our DJ during each day. He is very experienced and he knows which song to play and when and we are always in contact. Because during the match it can happen. “Now Brazil is in the front, do we have the Brazilian song ready? - yes. - Do we have everything ready? - Yes”. And we change over. So he has to skip the interrupt the song because we have only 90 seconds. So with the military precision we kind of orchestra this party. And that’s the whole thing. By the way, we have a producer here, so nothing is random, we know exactly what to do and when. Of course, it takes time and money, but this makes the difference between “we had a great night” and “that was ok”. When we started 10 years ago we were just lucky. But now we kind of control the party.
Which events did inspire you?
Beach volley and basketball, I’ve been to the basketball stadiums to watch how they pump the crowd. So the American sports the American way of representation sports. In tennis you have Wimbledon and you have Us Open. I prefer Us Open. Because it’s a show element and we try to implement it to beach tennis. In basketball is not quite. I still strongly believe that beach tennis players should play with a lot of noise, interferences, and flashing cameras. If you used to it it doesn’t matter what happens around. You play and you focus on the ball. And you can play a perfect game. You don’t need quietness al the time. Sometimes quietness can very exciting. When it’s a match point, I love to put the music down and then suddenly the silence becomes very powerful, the most powerful of everything. You can see we can throw a very good party but when it’s a really important point 2-3 times per night it will be totally silent here. When we are here with 3000 people and it’s silent it is super powerful.
Tell me about other tournaments you are involved in?
A few years ago we spent a lot of time in the USA. Taking part in organizing events. It had a circus format: Every weekend in a different city was an event. We had a big truck with all the equipment there, and it was amazing. And the Beach Tennis USA is the best production team I’ve ever seen. But the problem was that there were no facilities. The show came to town, we organized big event, the 15 courts, so many people on the beach, everybody came to play. But when the circus left town after the day, and people wanted to play there were no clubs, no courts. And that is the secret of success of Beach Tennis Aruba. Is the club. We have 15 courts and we organize daily tournaments. If they start doing that in the USA this will become huge in America.
Right now we organizing 2 big events on the field: Guayaquil (Ecuador) and Aruba, our tournament. But also we are in touch with Dutch federation. There are few events in the Netherlands that we are helping with sponsors. And we always helping other organizers with advice, we have a huge amount of emails: how to do this and that. For example, now Montreal is launching the tour and we are consulting them.
Are you waiting for Arubian winning Aruba like Wimbledon waited for Englishman?
Yes but that’s gonna take a while. Aksel is good but he is not top-4 yet, he is top-15. Now we are working with the kids and we have a great plan with the tennis federation. Because we are really thinking. Our goal is to go to the Olympic Games in 2024 hopefully as a demonstration sport in Paris. So we are trying to align it with ITF to go with it. And that would be the biggest push for the sport, we can imagine.
What about ITF?
ITF is very important. We have hate-love relations with ITF because they have many rules for us. But on the other hand, it’s such an important thing that we have a structure. Their credibility of the organization and their point to grow this sport, we can not do Beach tennis without ITF and we don’t want to. Our statement is that we are very committed with ITF right now as Aruba beach Tennis Open. Even if we would like to see things differently sometimes. We always have to have discussions, which we have with ITF and it goes very well, they are listening to us and so we feel respectful in this way.
What kind of respect do you mean?
Before we didn’t care that much about PRO players. At the very beginning, I also was a PRO and I never liked this “prima-donna style”. My point of view was that everybody: pros and amateurs should exist together as equals. “If you wanna play - come. If you don’t want to - don’t come”. And then Johan and Mark tried to explain to take athletes more serious. And we started to do more for the pros: hospitality, prize money. My philosophy was always: let’s invest in prize money so pros come to the island, but now I understand that that is not enough. So now we are trying more to make things better for the pro players. For example this year we have the players lounge, we have 2 qualified doctors on site and a medical team with all the equipment for all cases, physio, massage…
And I hope also in other tournaments ITF is going to put it as a standard: you are going to organize a nice G1 tournament, then you need this and this. And the players will benefit from it. With the big organization behind the sport, it will grow in general and players will benefit.
But what is more important for you?
The heart of our event is all additional tournaments: amateurs, juniors, seniors...
People come from over the world to play. And during the night they enjoy the show on the central court. And that is our another formula of success: pros need an audience and people need the show.
What did you change since last year and what are the plans for next year?
More prize money and this we want to continue. We want to earn the credibility for the audience. So they see this is not a silly game anymore”. Now it’s 65000$ maybe next year we have 85000$, maybe in 2 years, we have 100 000$ and so on. More players will come over to the sport, may be from Beach volley, may be from tennis.
The capacity of the stadium is bigger this year. Next year we want to move to a different location where we can make even a bigger stadium in a bigger village. The place we will hold in secret. It won’t be an Eagle beach, but the event will be bigger. This year we invested a lot of in a quality of the event. And next year we will invest in quantity.
Also maybe we have some more commentators joining the team, like Brazilian. For example this year we had more Russian players so what automatically happened is that DJ looked for Russian songs, imagine a native commentator.
How many people are involved in an organizational team?
40 of us main organizers. Than we have the security, the electricity team, the kitchen, the lights, the production team, the bar etc. In total, I think more than 200 people involved
When we will be able to watch the final of the Aruba Beach Tennis Open on TV?
That is what we are working on right now. We have an interest from a producer which is making a film here on site and he is interested to try to sell the concept of beach Tennis to a major chanel and we will see if it works or not. Actually, it’s a whole new world, a global platform, that we don’t know much about. That why we are trying to connect to people and focusing really hard trying to make good decisions. And ITF here can play a big role too. They have all the connection within the international platform. They have 45 broadcasters where they have access to. So if we stay with ITF they can bring us that platform, they can bring an international sponsor.