ASHLAND - Professional tennis once again returns to Ashland in July as the city will host the Braidy Industries $60,000 USTA Pro Circuit Women's Tennis Classic to be played at the Ashland Tennis Center, with a potential spot in this year's U.S. Open on the line.
Tournament director Jack Ditty joined Tuesday with the CEOs of Braidy Industries and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital at the tennis center to announce the recruitment of corporate sponsors for the tournament that runs from July 22-29.
Ditty said the tournament will be one-third of the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge where a wild card spot in the grand slam event will be awarded to the top points earner from the three events on the USTA's pro circuit. The other cities hosting such tournaments will be Lexington, Kentucky, and Stockton, California.
"The opportunity to earn a chance to be in the U.S. Open for these players makes this tournament hugely more attractive," said Ditty, comparing the event to those previous events hosted by the city between 2000 and 2007. "The winner of the U.S. Open may get their start in Ashland."
Hosted by the Greater Ashland Tennis Association, the Women's Tennis Classic will be televised on the internet by a crew sent from the USTA, putting the city in the spotlight.
"This is going to be an extraordinary community effort," said Ditty, a former tennis player for Ashland Paul Blazer and the University of Kentucky. "And the value of this tournament for teams in this area, for them to watch young women who are the same age they are play at this level is just immeasurable."
For Ditty, who was also director for previous USTA tournaments at the Ashland Tennis Center, bringing an event with the media exposure the USTA will provide is a way to give back to the city where he was raised.
The USTA previously removed Ashland from tour scheduling after the courts at the Ashland Tennis Center fell below the standards the nation's tennis governing body used to select tournament sites. Ditty said cracks in the courts and the timing of the USTA's decision coincided with the economic downturn of 2008 that left no funds to repair the venue.
Ditty approached the USTA about bringing pro circuit tennis back to Ashland in March and was given permission, provided the tennis center passed inspection.
Ashland Tennis Center was given the green light in May to hold the tournament, and Ditty turned to many of the organizers and committee members who aided in the previous tournaments for the quick preparation it took to launch this event.
A Louisville-based company was hired to repave four of the 10 courts and completed the work, which cost $21,500, by June 1.
Proceeds of the event will be used to reinvest in the upkeep of the Ashland Tennis Center so it can be used to host future events.
"I'm very excited about this event," said Jerry Groce, general manager of the Ashland Tennis Center. "This event will do so much for community awareness of the Ashland Tennis Center. The last time we hosted an event was 10 years ago. The impact on local kids with things like this is so great."
Pre-qualifying matches for the Women's Tennis Classic will be July 14-15 with three wild card spots being given for entry into the singles qualifying July 22. Admission for the pre-qualifying portion of the tournament will be free. Tickets for the tournament will be $8 each day with week-long passes available for $30.
The tournament will conclude July 29 with the singles final.
Other events coinciding with the Women's Tennis Classic will include a multi-sports clinic, a junior pro-am, an adult pro-am, a kick-off party, a players party and a flag raising that will mark the opening ceremony.
More information about the tournament and related events is available at www.ashlandprotennis.com.