RECORD numbers will play in the Border’s own summer of tennis.
On Thursday the Margaret Court Cup will start 11 days of tennis on both sides of the Border, with 371 players competing at the Albury Grasscourts in the open and age divisions.
The Victorian Junior Grasscourt titles follows on from the Cup finals, with 345 players to be involved in a further five days of competition at the Wodonga Tennis Centre from January 8.
Margaret Court Cup tournament director Phil Shanahan said an upgrade in status and dumping the under-18 division in favour of an open men’s and women’s draw were driving the record numbers.
Both tournaments are now rated as “Gold” events by Tennis Australia.
That’s a tier below the very highest level of tennis in the country.
The men’s open draw is also an Australian Money Tournament.
“We’ve got kids from northern Queensland, Alice Springs, the Pacific islands, Zimbabwe and the US — a field of more than 90 in the open men’s,” Shanahan said.
“Last year we suffered through five days of 42 degree heat so to see everyone come back after that is pretty amazing.
“Two thirds of the players will back up in both tournaments but in the Wodonga event there is a large contingent of Japanese players coming out here that can’t get here in time for the Margaret Court Cup.
“There has been a lot of work that has gone into both tournaments over the years.
“It is a big testimony to both committees in that the players and coaches almost universally endorse the tournaments, come back here year after year.”
Shanahan said James Duckworth was the most recent graduate from the Margaret Court Cup on the tennis tour.
“Certainly it is high-quality tennis,” he said.
“Up until two years ago it was a junior event only.”
Tennis Australia advised if players were going to be any good at 17 they need to be playing open men’s and women’s tennis.
“So we dropped the under 18s,” Shanahan said.
“James Duckworth was one of the juniors of the past but local Brendan Vescio who has just come back from Perth training with Matt Ebden and recently went down narrowly to Jordan Thompson who won the wildcard to get into the Australian Open will be playing.”
Shanahan said a teams event on Thursday was a pipe opener for the players.
“There is a fair bit of prestige attached to the teams event but it is really for so many of the kids who don’t get to play a lot of grass court tennis,” he said.
“They get to play three or four matches on the grass before the singles and doubles start on Friday.”