Tennis history was made in the Cayman Islands last week when the first International Tennis Federation tournament was held here, at the club courts in South Sound – and the whole event was very successful, despite heavy rains disrupting the schedule at the start.
The tournament, which ran throughout the week and finished on Sunday, was the largest tennis tournament Cayman has ever held, with the greatest number of countries being represented.
In the Junior ITF tournament, there were 80 juniors, and in the 14-18 year old junior division, there were three Caymanians.
Callum Theaker, Daniel Reid and Jade Wilkinson had a great experience playing against some of the world’s best.
Although they all lost in the first round, it was still useful to help them see what aspects of their game they can improve on and focus on getting tennis scholarships in the future.
The Senior ITF had 40 adults, mostly from Cayman, as well as players from the U.S., Australia and Switzerland.
“The tournament was a huge success for the Cayman Islands as it brought about 200 people from overseas to visit our beautiful island and experience Cayman’s wonderful hospitality,” said Rob Seward, tournament director.
“Although Mother Nature did create a challenge, the participants and the guests of the tournament still enjoyed a fantastic time and most importantly, the tournament went very well.”
Seward teamed up with Karl Hale, Davis Cup coach and Rogers Cup tournament director, to manage this colossal challenge.
Mickey Williams from the Bahamas and Raphael Harper from Jamaica were the tournament ITF officials, and Seward said they “were a tremendous asset and requirement to put such a tournament on.”
Hana Mandlikova, a four-time Grand Slam winner from the ‘80s, was in Cayman to play an exhibition match on Nov. 5, but it was rained out. “It was a bit unfortunate about not being able to play the exhibition, but we can’t do anything about the weather,” Seward said.
Seward and Hale thanked the ITF for sanctioning the tournament. Seward added, “We would also like to thank the members of the Cayman Islands Tennis Club for allowing the club to host such a great event as we all know that the members were not able to play their weekly games because of the tournament.
“We look forward to building the sport of tennis with Cayman’s children and look forward to providing a great tournament in the region to continue to bring the sport to everyone.”
Prize money was available only in the men’s and women’s singles events. Juniors are not allowed to take prize money as it would affect their amateur status.
Seward said that everyone who attended “loved the tournament, the club and the island; there was no negative feedback.”
He added that Williams and Harper were impressed with the facilities and clubhouse and found the tournament staff very easy to work with. “They said it is one of the better facilities in the region.”
The application to the ITF to host again next year is already being prepared. The aim is to make it bigger, especially in the senior events. “A few years down the road, I would like to increase the grade of the tournament from a 5 to a Grade 4 and get some more regional ITF tournaments,” said Seward.
“We’re already speaking with Bahamas and Jamaica around the same time period to offer a tour effect.”
He hopes to attract a bigger name playing in the exhibition although Mandlikova “is a very big name as well.” Seward hopes to attract more juniors watching and getting excited with a clinic involved for them.
Mandlikova’s daughter played in the tournament and that is why she was here. “Her daughter lost to Melissa Plambeck in a very close 5-7, 4-6 loss.”
Hale and Seward offered an exhibition just to provide a positive vibe for the club and the island about tennis.
“It was just unfortunate that the weather did not cooperate with us to actually have the exhibition, but after two days of no matches due to the rain it became a huge priority to make sure we got the tournament matches on as one cannot adjust the dates of the tournament and it is a major priority to complete the tournament,” Seward said.
“We had most of the juniors at other ITF or USTA tournaments, and if they did not show up they would have got penalized for it. We had a lot of kids going to Peru for an ITF and Florida for the Evert USTA Tennis Championships.”
Mandlikova still managed a question-and-answer session about her career and life in tennis “which was great for the members and guests.” There was a trivia question on who won the women’s 1985 U.S. Open. The correct answer was Mandlikova, who beat Martina Navratilova. Anyone who answered it correctly went into the draw for a chance to win two VIP tickets to the 2016 Rogers Cup in Canada.
“It is always great to have tennis greats at your club!” Seward said.