Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Little Purse, but Big Names

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Little Purse, but Big Names

Article excerpt

TENNIS: Oaks Club can boast of impressive list of high-ranking players

OSPREY

Brian Earley stopped by The Oaks Club late Sunday afternoon and took a little time to talk about how this week's $50,000 women's professional tennis tournament fits into USTA's scheme of events.

Taking a quick glance at the draw he held in his hand, Earley -- who not only is the USTA Pro Circuit director but also serves as the U.S. Open tournament referee -- explained that the field appeared representative of a typical $50,000 USTA pro tournament.

It was only after taking a closer look that Earley realized what he had been looking at was the qualifying draw for The 2012 Oaks Club Pro Circuit Event, not the main tournament. "I am really embarrassed. I thought this was the main draw," Earley explained.

He can be excused for the mistaken assumption, because this week's stop is definitely not your typical $50,000 tournament. There simply are not tournaments with that purse that include eight players ranked in the top 100 in the world like there is this week. And those that do are never as deep as this week, where the last direct acceptance in the main draw (excluding wild cards and qualifiers) is a player ranked No. 132.

"It's ridiculous," said Jill Craybas who, ranked No. 137, legitimately expected to be in the main draw this week but found herself in the qualifying, where she lost in the first round. "This is stronger than several WTA events."

Normally a field this robust is rare for a $100,000 tournament USTA Pro Circuit tournament. The last direct acceptance in Midland, Mich., the only $100,000 tournament played so far this year, was at No. 234.

The Oaks' tournament is, in fact, more in line with a small WTA event, and several of the $220,000 WTA events already played this season were not as deep as this week's tournament.

A $220,000 tournament in Bogota had a direct acceptance cutoff of 192. Another, in Thailand, had a cutoff of 134. And Memphis had a cutoff ranking of 130.

"I have only seen something like this one other time in a $50,000 event," said Billie Lipp, a tournament supervisor who has been working these events for more than 20 years. That came several years ago, an event held in the Bronx and played a week before the U.S. Open qualifying.

A perfect storm on the Pro Circuit calendar has resulted in the 32-player draw which begins here today and runs through Sunday.

The Oaks tournament, which grew from a $25,000 event in 2010 to $50,000 in prize money this year, moved up a couple of weeks on the calendar. That move positioned the event during the second week of the $4.8 million Sony Ericsson hard court tournament in Miami and a week before the Family Circle Cup, a $740,000 clay court tournament in Charleston, S.C.

"It is a good week to get in some matches and get accustomed to the clay," said Grace Min, a 17-year-old fast-rising American player who had to use a wild card just to get into the qualifying. …

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