City's satellite tourney could be launching pad

July 21, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Martina Hingis has played in satellite tournaments. So have Mary Pierce, Amanda Coetzer and Conchita Martinez. And just a year and a half ago, Andre Agassi played in two of them to recapture his form and begin his comeback from 140th in the world to No. 1.

Now, Baltimore is playing host to one.

The USTA Women's Satellite Tour of Baltimore will hold open qualifying matches Sunday and Monday. Main-draw play will begin Tuesday and run through Aug. 1. The tournament is a Tier 5 event with a $10,000 purse.

Open qualifying means any woman interested in competing can come to the Druid Hill Park tennis complex by 6 p.m. Saturday, plop down $30 and register for the qualifying rounds that begin Sunday at 8 a.m. Four players will advance to the main draw.

The USTA-sanctioned event is designed as a launching pad for talented young players who can use it to earn points, raise their rankings and move up the ladder to major tournaments.

In February 1998, a young player named Alexandra Stevenson won a $50,000 satellite event in Midland, Mich., and raised her ranking from about 400 to 200. Earlier this month, the still-unknown Stevenson, 17, wowed the tennis world by making it to the Wimbledon semifinals.

"You only have to look at that to see how useful the satellite tournaments can be to the players," said former tennis pro Pam Shriver, a member of the USTA board.

"It's the first step where you learn to win a tournament," Shriver said. "And, as for the tennis, last year, the week after Wimbledon, I went to watch a satellite tournament in Easton. I didn't know the names of the players, but I was impressed. People can go watch this event and see a high level of tennis -- and they very well may be watching a future star."

Eleven courts will be used to handle the 32 professional women's singles players and 16 doubles players from all over the world. In total, 26 countries and 24 states will be represented, including Maryland. Main-draw play begins each day at 10 a.m.

Free events for the public will be held from 9 a.m. to noon, with seniors on Tuesday, a ladies' clinic Wednesday and a children's clinic July 28; a celebrity tournament July 29 and a tennis carnival July 30.

Proceeds will benefit the Head Urban All-Star Tennis Academy (HUASTA), a non-profit program for inner-city children.

"People say tennis is dead, but it's not dead in Baltimore and it's growing," said David Owens, tournament director and executive director of the HUASTA. "We could have the next Pam Shriver, the next Venus Williams and we need to get behind these kids and support this program."

Pub Date: 7/21/99

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