John Harris said yesterday he probably will step down as tournament cochairman of the D.C. National Bank Classic.
"I'm about 90 percent there; it's gotten to be very difficult because I'm extremely busy with my work," said Harris, who works in commercial real estate. He has been cochairman with Donald Dell for 15 years and said he would remain with the tournament in some capacity.
Harris said that he and Dell have not discussed a replacement. Dell will choose the replacement if Harris steps down.
Harris said the problems with this year's tournament have nothing to do with his decision. "Fifteen years is a long time. The problems are minuscule now compared to what they were when we started."
This year's tournament was hindered by the lack of top-10 players, causing two problems: attendance dropped by an average of 800 per session, and profits decreased by 14 to 15 percent.
"I think the bigger names would have made a difference for us," said Harris. "I think attendance would have gone up. Attendance can be attributed to the lack of superstars."
The average per session was 4,823 in 1982. This year the average was 4,079 per session. On Thursday night the tournament set a record by attracting 9,071 to the evening session, a figure helped by Wednesday night's rainout, which allowed those fans with rain checks to attend Thursday.
The semifinals between Jimmy Arias and Eric Korita Sunday afternoon attracted only 4,200, 1,600 fewer than last year. Jose-Luis Clerc and Mario Martinez that evening drew 4,800, 1,000 fewer.
"That one day was the difference between the profit last year and this year," Harris said. "The Sunday semifinal is crucial. We usually sell those sessions out. I was very surprised," Harris said. Last year's semifinals were between Arias and Clerc and Ivan Lendl and Yannick Noah.
Last year the Classic gave about $95,000 to the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation, which funds programs for junior tennis in the community. This year Harris expects to give about $75,000.
"I don't think this year was a setback," Harris insisted. "I heard a lot of undercurrent about this being a down year. People came up to me and said that they were worried that we couldn't attract people.
"But we had Yannick Noah (who was suspended for not playing in a tournament earlier in the year), Gene Mayer (withdrew because of tendinitis) and Chris Lewis (withdrew because of injuries). It was unfortunate that we lost them. I can't control that. Those two or three names would have made a heck of a difference."
The tournament will not offer guarantee money in hopes of luring top players, Harris said. "There are no incentives we can offer top players."
Harris also offered a solution to the appearance money problems. "The pro council (Men's International Professional Tennis Council) should have hard designations, meaning the power to tell players three or four times a year what tournaments to play in. Right now the pro council can't help out.
"The players consider themselves entertainers, like Frank Sinatra. They feel they need guarantee money. But the system has made the players. Just as the NFL has made Joe Theismann, so the Grand Prix has made Jose-Luis Clerc. In emergency situations, where three or four players withdraw before the tournament, the council should be able to call on a (Guillermo) Vilas or (Jose) Higueras, and let Washington pay for their transportation."
Harris, who sat on the council from 1977 through 1979, will present his suggestion to council member Jack Kramer in an August meeting. "I've made the suggestion before," Harris said.
Harris said he saw a couple of encouraging signs from this year's tournament. "I thought the players' deportment on the court was the best I've ever seen. The officiating was very good, which led to the good demeanor. There were only four fines, all very minor.
"Second, the large number of three-set matches in singles. A lot of guys with good records went out in the early round. Hopefully, next year there will be more superstars."