WTA has tennis event scheduled in Howard County

New Troy Park has firm date of July 25

September 20, 2010|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

A $220,000 WTA tournament will be held July 25-31 at Troy Park Tennis and Sports Center, the newly approved state-of-the-art complex being developed just off Interstate95 near U.S. 1 in Elkridge.

Troy Park, a multi-use athletic park that will include 30 tennis courts, 12 of them indoor, is a seven-year dream pursued by Art Tollick, president of the Howard County Tennis Patrons. Tollick saw his dream turn to reality 26 days ago when he and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman signed a 40-year lease agreement.

"Now we're under way," Tollick said. "The county is working on the roads and infrastructure, and we're now able to begin selling bonds as part of our financing. Now we're heading toward getting as much as we can get done by July.

"It's somewhat challenging, but we'll have courts and stands. The event is on the WTA calendar, and it is going to happen and we intend to upgrade the field this year and each year in the future."

It will be an International-level event, one level down from Premier events. The levels are determined by the amount of total prize money offered.

According to Vani Vosburgh, WTA manager/communications and statistics, there are approximately 32 International events scheduled in 2011 and they each have total prize money of $220,000. Fields for the event usually draw one Top 20 player or four of the top 21 to 50 players.

"Typically, International events attract players ranked in the top 10 to the top 75 range," Vosburgh said in an e-mail. "Winners of International events in 2010 include Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, who won the recent U.S. Open, Venus Williams and Justine Henin -- all former No. 1 players. There will be a considerable number of top players and rising stars."

Other cities hosting Internationals include Acapulco, Mexico; Brisbane, Australia; Prague; Quebec City; Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo and Osaka, Japan; Auckland, New Zealand; and Memphis, Tenn.

Tollick said behind-the-scenes work was under way to ensure the appearance of several top players to spike the event's appeal to the local area.

In a timely turn of events, the WTA Tour will arrive with its players just eight months after Hall of Famer Pam Shriver wraps up a 25-year run for her Tennis Challenge charity event Nov. 17. The challenge traditionally gave Baltimore tennis fans their only access to the world's best pro players, men's and women's.

There has never been a regular women's pro tour stop here. The closest one came, Shriver said, trying to remember, was when the Virginia Slims Tour stopped in Washington and Northern Virginia in the early 1990s.

"Sometimes things just give way all at once," she said. "From everything I've heard, the Troy Park folks have been really hard at it for a long time. Pro tennis in my home state, I love it. I just hope there are long-term plans for its success, and if there is anything my office can do to help -- mailing lists, anything -- we will be there to do it."

Last year, Tollick approached Donald Dell about supporting the facility. Dell is a Washington lawyer and sports agent who has continued his involvement with tennis since his professional tour and Davis Cup days in the early 1960s. He co-founded the long-running ATP Legg Mason Classic men's tournament in Washington and has wanted to add a women's event.

"I've always wanted to expand tennis, and this is a very good opportunity," Dell said. "We knew it [Troy Park] was a great opportunity … closer to Baltimore, but just 15 minutes up the road from the Washington Beltway."

To bring a tournament here, Dell had to buy an existing one. He said he was limited in his choices by what was for sale and by the dates on the WTA calendar. He wanted the women's event to lead into the Legg Mason the following week, which it does.

The tournament he acquired replaces one formerly held in the springtime in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Dell said he plans to work for the next three to five years building it into a premier showcase event.

While Dell is working on improving the tournament, Tollick will be working on completing the $38 million Troy Park project. When done, the site, according to Tollick, will be the 12th-largest tennis venue in the country, seating 8,000, complete with suites. The stadium will be a multi-use complex that can be used not only for tennis, but also for other sports and activities, including college lacrosse and soccer tournaments, high school graduations and concerts. On the tennis front, Davis Cup, Fed Cup and ATP tournaments are all being discussed.

Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing, said he is excited by the new park and the "prestigious" event already scheduled there.

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