GODFREY — For the 18th consecutive year Lewis and Clark Community College is hosting its annual professional tennis tournament under the umbrella of the United State Tennis Association (USTA).
The longtime tennis extravaganza has showcased a plethora of talented netters right in the Godfrey community's backyard. Most notably Andy Roddick played here early in his career, long before winning the U.S. Open. Serena Williams' current hitting partner, Robbye Poole, won the LCCC Futures in 2010, so there have been some notable participants.
But for fourth year tournament director and head women's tennis coach for the Trailblazers, Jim Hunstein, how it brings the campus together is just as important as the tennis in his opinion.
“It brings us all together as a team out here,” Hunstein said. “We have an amazing crew that works this out here. The whole school is involved in it from the maintenance guys keeping everything in shape here, all the athletic department pitching in, student activities running around doing stuff, security, food services, everybody is involved here. It's a great effort on behalf of the whole college to put this on. The players really appreciate it, the officials really appreciate it and we get nothing but compliments about how we take care of everybody here.”
Personally for Hunstein being the tournament director is a blast. He gets to interact with some of the nation's brightest young and rising stars in the sport of tennis. He hopes one day to see their names in the draws at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open or other major tournaments.
“It's a lot of fun because I get to work with the people from all over the school and we get to see all the officials, the USTA folks who come back time and time again and the players,” Hunstein said. “You get a great vibe from these guys. They're out there playing their matches and when they're done playing they try and find an open court and find somebody to hit with to just keep playing. They're just tireless, which is the definition of a 20-year-old, which is what they've got to be to make this happen. They're grateful for everything we do for them, but we're grateful they want to come here and play.
“We literally have guys from all over the world that come here to play. They're young guys, late teens, early 20s and this is their dream to make the pro tour. They're here at the lowest level, making their bones, earning their points and getting a little bit of money, not much, so you love to support these guys. This is a huge dream for these guys. I don't know what other people were thinking about in their early 20s, how big their dreams were, mine weren't this big. Not enough to go across a continent, across an ocean and half way across North America to Godfrey, Ill. to play in a tennis tournament.”
One boost for the LCCC tourney this year is the prize money elevating from a $10,000 challenger to a $15,000 challenger. Hunstein admitted its caused a slight influx in the talent level at the tournament.
“The biggest thing is the qualifying round,” he said. The quallies are only 64-player draw instead of 128 in the past, which means there are far fewer people here. In the past someone might show up and decided they may want to try and play and there has usually been room for them, but now you've got to get in early, register early and you've got to be worthy of playing in the qualifiers, so it's been a little bit better competition from the very beginning. Now we're in the later rounds of the main draw and it just gets tougher and tougher.”
Another aspect which has helped the quality of the tournament is something that is coming to be known as the “Illinois swing” of the Futures tournaments. For years there was only the LCCC Futures and then the Decatur Futures, but with the recent edition of the Edwardsville Futures and the Champaign-Urbana Futures, it's made the Land of Lincoln a destination state for hungry young netters.
LCCC kicks off the quartet, with Edwardsville to follow from July 27 through Aug. 2, the Ursula Beck Pro Tennis Classic in Decatur is from Aug. 3-9 and finally the Champaign-Urbana Futures span from Aug. 10-16.
Hunstein credited Edwardsville tournament director Dave Lipe, also the Edwardsville High School boys' and girls' head tennis coach, for forging the trail for the Illinois expansion.
“The whole Illinois swing concept is the brainchild of Dave Lipe in Edwardsville,” Hunstein said. “I give him total credit for this and it's a great idea. And to the credit of the USTA, they kind of reshuffled it. They used to go from here to Decatur and then back down to Edwardsville and that didn't make a whole lot of sense. Now they go here, Edwardsville, Decatur, Champaign and it makes much more sense that way. They always say what's best for the players and that's what's best for the players. Now they can make these progressions and we have great relationships between the directors at these tournaments so we do what we can to help each other out. Something like the Illinois swing, if we can get that going and get more publicity out of it even next year, it's better for everybody.”
The doubles finals at LCCC are scheduled not before 11 a.m. Friday, with the singles semifinals set for 10 a.m. Saturday and the singles finals for 10 a.m. on Sunday. Admission is free for fans and there are covered pavilions with comfortable seating for viewing matches.
Hunstein said tennis fans won't find anything any better talent wise.
“You have world class players here,” Hunstein said. “You will not see better tennis in the St. Louis area than you're seeing out here right now.”