Fox Chapel tennis event will feature top-notch talent
The 15th Annual Fox Chapel Junior Open tennis tournament will be held from Monday, Aug. 6 through Friday, Aug. 10.
Tom Benic, tournament chairman since the first tournament in 1988, is confident that this year's event will be another rousing success.
"The tournament has grown to become the largest USTA-sanctioned junior tournament on the East Coast," Benic said. "We started off using the nine courts at the Fox Chapel Racquet Club but over the past 10 years, we've had over 250 singles entrants and over 50 doubles teams entered every year.
"That's double the size of most junior tournaments."
Because of the size, the tournament site has been forced to expand.
"Though the Fox Chapel Racquet Club has remained the heart and soul of this tournament, we have gotten great cooperation from clubs and schools in the Fox Chapel area and have used as many as 35 courts at six different venues,"Benic said. "We expect large numbers again this year."
This year's tournament will be smaller for varied reasons.
Court availability in the Fox Chapel area will be reduced mainly due to campus-wide maintenance being done at SSA, which eliminates the use of 10 courts that had been used in the past.
Also, new USTA rules call for smaller court dimensions for 10-and-under tennis so that age group will be eliminated this year.
"That was always one of our most popular divisions," Benic said. "In 2009, we had 16 girls and 24 boys."
Also being eliminated this year are the 12-and-under doubles category.
Draw sizes will be limited to the first 32 local players who enter.
"In the past, we've had entries from neighboring states and from as far away as Hawaii,"Benic said. "However, Western Pennsylvania kids represent 90 percent of the draw and they will remain our first priority."
Despite the restrictions, Benic says that this year's tournament quality will match those of the past.
"Even though this is an entry-level tournament that attracts a lot of players with no tournament experience, veteran players keep coming back year after year, just for the competition and great camaraderie," Benic said.
"On a number of occasions, players have flown back from a high-level tournament in Florida or the West Coast just to play in this tournament. Often the boys 18 and girls 18 championships are a preview of the WPIAL and PIAA singles and doubles championships."
The sportsmanship involved in the tournament has also been impressive through the years.
"As with all USTA tournaments, the players make their own calls with adult court monitors on hand if needed," Benic said. "No one could imagine a Little League game being played without an umpire to call balls and strikes.
"We have 400 matches a year where a single bad call on a remote court could decide a match but this almost never happens."
Benic acknowledges that without a lot of volunteer help, the tournament wouldn't be possible. And there's a long list of people who give their time freely to make it a success.
"This is a community-wide effort every year, recruiting volunteers and getting commitments of courts and other services," Benic said.
"Martin Sturgess has been the tournament director for 14 years, scheduling every match, recording every score and using his staff at the Racquet Club to handle the day-to-day and hour-by-hour details of the tournament.
"Racquet Club manager Len Chorney and administrative assistant Pat Cirincione have had extremely important roles from the beginning. They process all of the entries and mobilize the club's staff and club volunteers to handle this huge undertaking every year."
Racquet Club members not only have given up their court time for the week, they've also stepped up to volunteer.
For the past decade, Lynn Thompson types each final score into the computer software. The scores are then published to the Internet.
There has also been much help coming from tennis professionals John Mercer from the Pittsburgh Field Club, Craig Perry at Fox Chapel Golf Club and, more recently, Fox Chapel Area girls tennis coach Alex Slezak.
There will be singles competition in eight divisions and doubles in four divisions.
All participants are guaranteed two matches in singles as there is a full consolation backdraw for first-match losers.
There will be trophies awarded to place winners in singles and winners and runnersup in doubles.
Matches will be played at the Pittsburgh Field Club, Fox Chapel Golf Club, Fox Chapel Area High School and Longue Vue Club in Penn Hills.