tennis, everyone?

Jose Statham, of Aukland, New Zealand returns the ball while playing opponent Ryan Haviland, during the International Tennis Federation Pro Circuit USA F22 Men’s Futures held at the Mt. Lebanon outdoor courts last year.

Many longtime tennis fans fondly recall the “West Penn” National Collegiate Clay Court Championships that dated back to 1889 and regularly showcased top college tennis stars at Mt. Lebanon’s courts over the July 4 weekend. That tournament ended several years ago when International College Tennis Association coaches voted to no longer sanction it, says Lebo Tennis Pro Hank Hughes, because they wanted to play on hard (not Har-Tru) courts on a college campus where housing was free and easy. Hughes went to the top of the USTA and tried unsuccessfully to keep the once prestigious tournament here. He also tried variations on the tournament for the past two years; unsanctioned, the events met with little success. Time to move on.

But tennis lovers, take heart. Some of the top tennis players in the world will come to Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center Tuesday, June 26, to Sunday, July 1, for a U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) Men’s Professional Tournament. Of the 32 entrants in the tournament, 22 will be selected based on their USTA ranking. Of the remaining 10 spots, eight will be selected from a 64-seed qualifying tournament, which will take place June 23-25.

Jack Bowen (right) joins spectators in watching a match between New Zealand’s Jose Statham and USA’s Ryan Haviland.

“Every pro event has a qualifying tournament,” says Hughes. “If you’re not in the top 50 nationwide, you’re qualifying.” The remaining two spots are wild cards. In the past  Hughes decided who got the wild cards, which, as you can imagine, had the potential for unpleasantness. This year there are two wild-card tournaments, one here and one at in Frenchtown, New Jersey, June 15-17. Cost to enter the qualifier here is $75. Entries close June 9. Brian Earley, a Pittsburgh native and director of pro circuit for the USTA is tournament director. Tennis fans may recognize Earley from his other job: tournament referee at the U.S. Open. “If there’s ever an issue there, and you see them talking with this tall guy with gray hair, that’s Brian,” says Hughes.

At 5:30 each afternoon of the tournament, weather permitting, there will be a featured match, selected by Hughes.

This is the last year that the tournament prize pool is $15,000. Beginning next year, that figure will jump to $25,000.

“Expect to see a big increase in the level of competition,” says Hughes. Matches go on all day. Admission to the tournament is free.

Photography: John Schisler