1. Sports

Professional tennis descends on Innisbrook

The inaugural USTA Innisbrook Tennis Open, along with a Senior Circuit event featuring John McEnroe, is being played this week at the Palm Harbor resort.
Former professional tennis star John McEnroe will make a rare appearance on the tennis court Thursday at Innisbrook. [ AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza ]
Published Apr. 3

Innisbrook is best known for its golf, especially the PGA Tour event that comes to town every March. This year, and likely into the future, the resort will also host professional tennis.

The USTA Pro Circuit has added the Innisbrook Tennis Open, which started play Monday and runs through Sunday. The tournament will be played at the same time as the WTA’s Charleston Open. Most of the top 32 players will be in South Carolina, but for those who didn’t qualify, Innisbrook is now an option.

“There was an opportunity for an event like this," Innisbrook director of tennis Joe Mattingly said. “I just had to get my foot in the door and get the date that I wanted. I really wanted the date after (WTA’s) Miami (Open). The whole thinking there was the girls who didn’t get into the 32 draw in Charleston would come to Innisbrook."

The players at this year’s event may not be known by most tennis fans. Nicole Gibbs is the top seed in the singles tournament. She is ranked 124th in the WTA rankings.

But fans will be familiar with the players in the senior event on Thursday. John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake and Mardy Fish will play starting at 2 p.m. McEnroe faces Courier and Blake takes on Fish for one set. The winners will play a set against each other for the championship.

McEnroe, 60, does not play much senior tennis anymore. But he is still a player who can draw a crowd. Mattingly said the event is nearly sold out and he expects a full crowd of 1,500 to be at center court.

“It’s a big deal to get him," Mattingly said. “He’s a big draw."

Mattingly said the hope is to make this an annual event. The senior tournament will also remain a part of the schedule.

“The (USTA) tour has an interest in making this a stop and we have an interest in that as well," Mattingly said.

Innisbrook Tennis Open

When/where: Through Sunday, Innisbrook Spa and Resort, Palm Harbor

Purse: $80,000

Tickets information:

Schedule: Thursday – Round of 16; Senior Champions Classic at 2 p.m.; Friday – Semifinals; Saturday - Doubles finals; Sunday - Singles finals at noon.


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