Photo by Matt Kamp
Michael Mmoh of Washington, D.C., celebrates after winning the singles championship at the Men’s Pro Tennis Classic at Lewis and Clark Community College in 2015.
In 1998, Lewis and Clark Community College hosted the first Men’s Pro Tennis Classic — a tournament of the world’s top-ranked tennis players.
Since then, the tourney has become a popular event on the Godfrey campus.
“This is a legitimate professional tennis event,” LCCC athletic director Doug Stotler said.
Stotler also is working as the tournament director for the Men’s Pro Tennis Classic.
“It kind of gives you an idea of its stature,” he said. “This is a pro (event) where guys are awarded prize money based on their finish. One of the biggest names over the last 19 years to ever come through this event is Andy Roddick. Andy was at the height of the professional tennis world and still is a premier player. The kid’s route to the elite of pro tennis came through the futures. There’s another level that’s slightly above this called the challengers and that’s a $50,000 level. That’s what these guys do. They’re trying to graduate from the futures level to the challenge level and then up to another level and then finally to that real elite tennis.”
The tourney will begin its 19th year at the Andy Simpson Tennis Complex at 8 a.m. Saturday with qualifying play. The final 32-player main draw play begins on July 19 and finals are scheduled for July 24.
“There are two sections in this thing,” Stotler said. “There’s a qualifying round and there would be 64 total players participating for a select few spots in what’s called the main draw. The qualifying round begins on Saturday and will go through Monday. Then, you got a group that will participate in what we call the main draw. There’s a group of guys that have already established themselves in the main draw. There are only a few spots left in that main draw and that’s what these guys are fighting for, the qualifying round for those handful of spots in the main draw. So we’ll have 64 for the qualifying round. Then, in the main draw, it’s a round of 32 players.”
The tournament is a United States Tennis Association Men’s Futures Pro Circuit event and draws players from countries as far away as Australia, India, China and Brazil.
“This is kind of the minor leagues of professional tennis,” Stotler said. “This is where guys get their start.”
Stotler said the event offers a total purse of $25,000.
“That purse is divided up among all of those pros who can win something,” the LCCC athletic director said. “In a ballpark (figure), you’re talking about the final champion getting in that $2,000 to $3,000 range of that $25,000. So you could have those early exit players getting in that $75 prize money range. But the ultimate winner would be in that $2,000 to $3,000 range. That $25,000 is a sum that gets distributed among all of those guys that win.”
Stotler said there is a large group of amateurs who compete in the Men’s Pro Tennis Classic.
“There are guys who are playing from major Division I universities,” he said. “There might be some junior college guys, but there’s an awful lot of them that are still amateur players. They are just preparing and earning points for their future as a pro. But most of these guys that are actually declared professionals are just that. They’re trying to make a living at this game and they’re developing their game and trying to play against as much really good competition as they can so they can increase their status as a pro.”
In last year’s USTA Men’s Futures tournament at LCCC, Michael Mmoh, a 17-year-old from the Washington, D.C., area, won the singles championship by beating Jared Hiltzik, who played at the University of Illinois, in three sets in the title match. Mmoh won three Men’s Futures tournaments.
Dominic Cotrone of Bradenton, Fla., and Argentina’s Jordi Arconada won the doubles championship, beating John Lamble and Frederick Saba in two sets in the title match.
One Illinois native, Evan King, reached the semifinals of last year’s event. King, who is from Chicago, lost to Mmoh. King won a state championship in high school and then played collegiately at Michigan.
There will also be Men’s Futures tournaments at Edwardsville (July 22-31), Decatur (July 30-Aug. 7) and Champaign (Aug. 6-13). All of the tournaments, including the one at LCCC, represent a $1 million tour. The quartet of tourneys is tagged the Illinois Swing.
A press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at LCCC’s River Bend Arena to kick off the Illinois Swing. Brian Earley, the director of the USTA Pro Circuit, will be on hand for the festivities.
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