Dan Hackett oversees prestigious Mt. Lebanon clay court tournament for last time
Dan Hackett has fond memories from his time as tournament director of the USTA Men's Futures and the ITA West Penn Amateur/National Collegiate Clay Court Championships.
This year, however, will be different.
It will be his 13th and last time running the event at Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center.
“I don't know who I'm passing the torch to, but I told the president of Allegheny Mountain District that this will be my last year, and it's time for somebody else to step up,” Hackett said. “I've done my part, and it's tiring. It's a lot of work, and 13 years is a long time raising money year round and fundraising in February and all the stuff that needs to be done.”
During his tenure, the professional and the men's and women's collegiate tournaments have brought in some of the top players regionally and nationally. Since 2007, three former WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA singles champions — Latrobe's Michaela and Joelle Kissell (2008 and 2011, respectively) and Peters Township's Alison Riske — have won the women's draw.
Riske, the 2007 champion, is ranked No. 126 in the world by the International Tennis Federation and made it into the third round at Wimbledon before losing, 6-2, 6-3, to Estonian Kaia Kanepi. Seeing a former competitor at the West Penn Amateur/National Collegiate Clay Court Championships go that far in a major is why Hackett has stuck with it.
“I love the game and I wanted to give back to the game, and it's been great watching some of these players go from juniors and now they're in their early 20s and they're playing on the Tour,” Hackett said. “Alison, she was playing here when she was 13 or 14, and now she's at a major. And to get to the third round at Wimbledon you have to have a world-class game.”
The kind of success players have had after competing on the Mt. Lebanon clay shouldn't be a surprise. Several outstanding players have competed in and won this event, including hall of famer Bill Tilden, who won four times in the early 1900s, and Mt. Lebanon High School alumna and current Claremont Mudd Scripps head coach Gretchen Rush Magers, who won in 1981, 1983 and 1985 and went on to make the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open.
“I think (the fondest memory was) the first year I won and my family all being there to support me,” Rush Magers said via email. “I distinctly remember my sister's friends bringing me flowers that they had obviously dug up from a nearby flower bed at the tennis center.”
This year, several local players will attempt to take their place next to Tilden, Rush Magers and Riske in an effort to move up the ladder. Rising Duke senior Christopher Mengel, the 2010 WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA champion while at Shady Side Academy, received a wild-card entry for the main Futures draw. He is foremost among the area players who will attempt to unseat top-seeded Sanam Singh of India, the 342nd-ranked player in the world, when that portion of the tournament begins Tuesday.
“It's a really good draw,” Hackett said. “Now we'll just have to wait and see what happens.”