Bobby Pope

Professional tennis set for return to Macon

The W.L. Amos Sr. Tennis Classic will be played Oct. 23-30 at the LeRoy Peddy Tennis Center at Mercer.
The W.L. Amos Sr. Tennis Classic will be played Oct. 23-30 at the LeRoy Peddy Tennis Center at Mercer. Mercer

Macon always has been a good tennis town.

The city features one of the top public facilities in the nation in the John Drew Smith Tennis Center, which opened 36 years ago and has played host to numerous USTA events through the years and will continue to do so in 2017. The USTA National Level 3 Boys and girls 16s and 18s will be played at the Smith Center in July.

If you are a tennis fan, there will be two tournaments coming to Macon this weekend. The USTA Georgia State Junior Open for 10s and 11s girls and boys will be played Saturday through Monday at Idle Hour Club. That competition will be held on both Idle Hour’s clay and hard courts.

Professional tennis also makes its way back to Macon starting Sunday with opening-round play in the newly named W.L. Amos Sr. Tennis Classic at the LeRoy Peddy Tennis Center at Mercer. This is the fourth year for the tournament and the third year with the Amos Foundation as the title sponsor.

Professional tennis in Macon dates back almost a half-century. We had the Macon International Tennis Tournament back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it was discontinued after four years. That event attracted some of the top men’s players in the world, including Cliff Richey, a young Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and Arthur Ashe.

Give credit to Mercer tennis head coach Eric Hayes for bringing the professional women’s event to Macon. This is actually the 14th year he has been in charge of the tournament. Prior to coming to Mercer, he was the tennis coach at Troy, and that is where the competition was first played, and when he left the Alabama program, he brought the tournament with him.

No, you won’t see the likes of Serena or Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova or Angelique Kerber, but it is possible that you will see a future Grand Slam winner. Twenty former players from the tournament were in the main draw at the U.S. Open in New York in August.

Among the players who will be competing in Macon this year is 17-year-old American Cici Bellis, who is currently ranked 110th in the world and who went through qualifiers at this year’s U.S. Open and won two rounds in the main draw. She will be joined by Americans Jennifer Brady, who is ranked No. 111, and Julia Boserup, who is No. 122. Georgians Samantha Crawford of Atlanta, who is ranked No. 106 and who reached the second round at Wimbledon, and Melanie Oudin of Marietta, who advanced to the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 2009, are also in the field as is Czechoslovakia’s Marie Bouzkova, who had a No. 7 world ranking as a junior.

This year’s field will be competing for $50,000 in prize money, which is double what it was just four years ago. There will be a 32-player singles draw and 16 doubles teams. The opening weekend, a 32-player qualifying draw will play down to four main draw single qualifiers.

Highlights of the week include the pro-am and the player/sponsor party and the visits made by players to local schools to promote tennis as a lifetime sport and the professional event. There also will be the “Macon a Racket” children’s tennis clinic Sunday at the Tattnall Courts featuring the pro players, as well as members of the Mercer tennis teams in conjunction with Middle Georgia Tennis and the Macon Tennis Association.

The finals of the W.L. Amos Sr. Tennis Classic are set for Oct. 30.

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