Sports

August 1, 2014

Edwardsville set to host major tennis event

It's not Wimbledon and it's not the U.S. Open, but beginning Monday, for 32 top tennis players the Edwardsville High School Tennis Complex will seem like their own Grand Slam venue.

The fourth annual Edwardsville Futures USTA Pro Circuit Event will serve as the next step toward fulfilling the dreams of fame and fortune for these top players, when tournament play begins Monday morning at Edwardsville High School.

Edwardsville tennis coach and co-tournament director David Lipe said players ranked in the top 300 in the world will be on hand to compete in the event. A 16-entry doubles field also will test their skills.

"You'll see players who are ranked in the top 300-400 in the world competing here. A couple of years back, I think our top seed was ranked like in the low 200s,'' Lipe said. "The quality here is like the early rounds of the U.S. Open, it's that good.

"One of the good things about this is that our young players get to watch the top players in the world train here for two weeks. We are in contact with the USTA in New York every day and those people know of Edwardsville. It's good for our community and it gives our tennis program some exposure.''

The Edwardsville Futures USTA Pro Circuit Event is actually three tournaments in one.

A wild-card tournament with the winner earning a berth in the main draw concluded Wednesday and a qualifying tournament which will award four spots in the main draw is being held Friday through Sunday at Edwardsville High School and SIU-Edwardsville.

The main tournament begins Monday and runs through Sunday, Aug. 10.

All matches will be played at the Edwardsville High School Tennis Complex.

"We've had guys here who have gone on to play in Grand Slam events,'' Lipe said. "I equate this to like minor league baseball at the 'AA' level.

"You've seen people who have played at that level who have gone on to have great careers in the big leagues. You've had players who have played in Futures events who have gone to play on the ATP circuit and do well.''

The Edwardsville Futures USTA Pro Circuit Event is much more than just a tennis tournament. It's an event which has brought the city of Edwardsville together, led by the EGHM (Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Hamel, Moro) Foundation.

"The EGHM Foundation and its President Joe Gugger, along with (Edwardsville) District 7, are really at the core of the tournament,'' Lipe said. "The EGHM, Dr. (Ed) Hightower and the administrative staff of District 7 and their support is the lifeblood of this event. Without their help and support this tournament is not possible.''

Hosted by the EGHM Foundation, the Edwardsville Futures was born four years ago through a relationship between Lipe and University of Illinois tennis coach Brad Dancer.

"Brad and I had had a dialogue through the years on several topics and he called me four years ago and asked if we would be interested in hosting a Futures event,'' Lipe said. "When I asked when it was, he said two months - in August.

"I told him that I would check with the foundation, Dr. Hightower and the school district and when it was approved by them we went for it.''

The USTA paid the entire budget of the Edwardsville Futures event the first year.

Lipe said it costs $30,000 to run the tournament each year and that the money is raised with the help of the Edwardsville community and through other donations.

"It's a community effort. We have a lot of businesses in the city helping out financially. The City of Edwardsville, the Comfort Inn in Edwardsville and Prairie farms are our biggest sponsors,'' Lipe said. "Then we've got several other sponsors which help out financially and we have several restaurants which provide food for our officials and referees. We also have an army of volunteers which help out in every way imaginable.

"We have people from all over the planet who will be here the next two weeks who are staying in Edwardsville and throughout the area. The economic impact on the local economy is tremendous. From a players standpoint, this isn't New York City and the U.S. Open, but it's a great place to host a tournament.''

Lipe said the Futures Tour features players in college or just out of college.

Occasionally, there also will be a top high school player who will be able to compete.

"You've got the very top level, which is like the U.S. Open, then you've got the Challenger events which are like $150,000 tournaments. They have one in Champaign. And then you've got the Futures which is what we host,'' Lipe said. "There are also Futures events in Decatur and Godfrey, so this is like the Illinois swing of the Futures Tour.

"We are the only high school in the world which hosts a Futures Tour stop. All the others are hosted by like country clubs, colleges and tennis academies. It's a lot of hard work for everybody, but it's also a lot of fun. If I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't do it.''

Lipe along with co-tournament director Kim Geminn (Mulherin) mentioned that several special events are planned throughout the week.

* Kids night, which features a tennis clinic and includes food and prizes, will be Monday.

* Mitch and Friends, an annual clinic for children with special needs, also is planned.

"Mitch and Friends came out of the Futures Tournament and is now a year-round program, which offers tennis opportunities for those with special needs,'' Lipe said. "We're going to have Mitch and Friends on Wednesday and then we're going to have kids day on Saturday.

"The kids day will coincide with the men's singles semifinals. Every year we try to add another event or a program.''

Singles and doubles finals are set for Sunday. Tickets are priced at $4 for adults and $2 for students.

For further information, contact Lipe at dlipe@ecusd7.org or www.edwardsvillefutures.com.

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