A Men’s Open singles field of 18 players will compete in the first Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center Prize Money Tennis Tournament this weekend.
The United States Tennis Association-sanctioned event, which also includes doubles, gets under way today (4:30 p.m.) at the Bellefonte Country Club Tennis Center. Matches continue Saturday and Sunday.
Umang Chadda, director of tennis operations at BCC, got the ball rolling for the new tournament by acquiring local sponsorship.
“I especially want to thank Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center and our other sponsors for making this a go,” Chadda said. “We’re also happy to have the USTA partner with us to give (ranking) points to the players.”
As for the prize money, here’s the breakdown: singles champion ($500); singles runner-up ($250); singles semifinalists ($125); doubles championship team ($300); doubles runner-up team ($150).
The singles draw includes several locals among 17 male players from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, along with one female.
Ukraine native Kateryna Yergina, who enjoyed a successful college career at Virginia Commonwealth, has been traveling on the women’s pro circuit.
Chadda, the tournament director, said that while it’s unusual to have a woman playing in the Men’s Open division, the USTA approved it.
“We did advertise for a women’s division, but did not have enough entries,” Chadda said. “We certainly are excited for her to come and play our tournament. One of our (club) members will be a host family for her.”
Chadda hasn’t seen Yergina play tennis, but he will be her doubles partner for Saturday’s quarterfinals. Chadda, a former Junior Davis Cup player for India, has high hopes for his doubles team. He stays in shape by training several junior players at Bellefonte.
“I certainly would like to compete to my best potential,” said Chadda, who will only play doubles. “I’m hoping a crowd from Ashland would come and watch me play in the finals Sunday morning. Let’s hope for the best.”
Former Georgetown College standout Michael Cunningham, now assistant tennis coach at the NAIA school, is seeded No. 1 in singles as well as doubles (with Gustavo Echeverria). Seedings are based on USTA rankings.
The Men’s Open singles field has a wide range of ages — from Ashland’s Robby Krick, 13, to 58-year-old Jose Salazar, another local player. Lawrence County High School's Cole McCreary is the No. 4 seed.
“The juniors can’t receive prize money,” Chadda said. “We can provide some kind of gift card. I have to check.”
Cunningham figures to face a tough challenge in the Round of 16 today at 5 p.m. against Ashland’s Rich Meade, who currently plays for Florida Atlantic University.
Meade and his younger brother Max, a standout at Huntington St. Joe, will join forces in doubles.
Tournament matches will be played on BCC’s three indoor and two outdoor courts.
The tournament is free and open to the public.
“Anyone can come, watch and cheer for the players,” Chadda said.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.