Ladies Pro Tennis event starts Sunday in Tyler; players aim for entrance in Australian Open

Published on Monday, 23 October 2017 12:32 - Written by CHRIS PARRY, cparry@tylerpaper.com

Ever have a desire to meet a French Open champion?

How about a chance to sit within touching distance of potential future major winners?

Tyler Athletic and Swim Club will be able to give tennis lovers and fans of all ages a chance to do both.

The inaugural RBC Tyler Pro Challenge begins Sunday, Oct. 29. It is a Women’s USTA Pro Circuit Event that is bringing some of the best tennis players in the world to the Rose City. All are competing for $80,000 in prize money and a chance to earn a main draw wild card into the 2018 Australian Open.

The action begins with a 32-person qualifying bracket that will ultimately yield four players who will complete a 32-person main singles draw. The quarterfinals, semifinals and final are scheduled for Nov. 3-5.

Admission is free to the qualifying rounds with the quarterfinals, semifinals and final tickets set at $5 for children and $10 for adults, and can be purchased at rbcprochallenge.com.

“We’ve always envisioned this (event) being here because Tyler has such a rich tennis history,” said Scott McCulloch, tournament promoter. “One cool thing about this event is three of the four semifinalists from this year’s U.S. Open (champion Sloane Stephens, runner-up Madison Keys and semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe) played in this tournament within the last three years.

“(That includes) many of the up-and-coming American stars and a lot of former Top 10s with a very international draw and some of the best female players in the world representing 14 different countries.”

Already in the final 32-person field and seeded No. 1 in the event is Francesca Schiavone, the 2011 French Open champion, who is currently ranked No. 82 in the world.

According to a recent news release, Tyler tennis fans will be treated to a stacked field. A trio of former International Tennis Federation Junior World No. 1’s -- Katernya Bondarenko (Ukraine), Taylor Townsend (USA) and Kayla Day (USA) -- will be in Tyler, along with former top 10 player Patty Schnyder, who has reached the U.S. Open and French Open quarterfinals, and in 2004, made it to the Australian Open semifinals.

NCAA women’s singles champions Nicole Gibbs (Stanford) and Jamie Loeb (North Carolina) lead a strong group of American women, along with Day, Townsend and 18-year-old Sofia Kenin. Nine Americans in total have confirmed acceptances into the main draw.

Also prepared to match stroke for stroke with the best the world has to offer is Tyler Junior College’s Jasmine Asghar. She finished as the No. 1 ranked JUCO player and helped the Apache Ladies win a national championship last year. She was granted a wild card into the qualifying draw.

McCulloch added the RBC Pro Challenge is one of three qualifying tournaments in the USTA’s Australian Open Wild Card Challenge. The American woman who earns the most WTA ranking points at two of three tournaments (Macon, Georgia; Tyler, Waco) will earn a main draw wild card into the 2018 Australian Open.

“This is an incredible field,” McCulloch said. “We’re so excited to have players of this quality and ranking right here in Tyler. It’s not often you get an opportunity to watch former major champions in your backyard.”

Notes: Tournament proceeds will benefit ACEing Autism, a national nonprofit that connects children with autism through unique tennis programs. ACEing Autism will be launching a program at the new Tyler Athletic and Swim Club at a date to be announced soon. … The event will also be streamed live throughout the world by going to rbcprochallenge.com ... On Thursday, Nov. 2, there will be a Free Kids Day from 5 to 6 p.m., and Friday, Nov. 3, there will be a complimentary clinic from 6 to 7 p.m. All of the events will take place at the Tyler Athletic and Swim Club (11208 Oak Creek Blvd., Tyler).