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OLBH Tennis Classic Returns

August 31, 2007 04:57 PM

Fifth-year Classic keeps on growing

By ROCKY STANLEY / The Independent

ASHLAND Four years ago, the Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital Tennis Classic began as a $25,000 event with limited media exposure.

Since then, the USTA women’s tournament has jumped to the $50,000 level and the 2008 version will feature an even stronger field and greater visibility.

“It continues to grow and get better and better,’’ said tournament founder and director Dr. Jack Ditty.

The OLBH Tennis Classic returns Sept. 23-28 at the Ashland Tennis Center.

Daystar Television Network is the new presenting sponsor after increasing its level of sponsorship. Daystar will offer a delayed telecast of the final rounds one week after the tournament.

“We will be able to reach a larger audience, going to 334,000 homes in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia,’’ Ditty said.

MyZ TV will again carry the singles final live. Also set to return are The Tennis Channel’s “Inside Tennis With the Koz’’ and RadioTennis.com.

While others are getting the word out, Ditty credited a large community effort for enabling the tournament to operate successfully.

“We have a very established staff of volunteers that make my job easier,’’ Ditty said. “I can only be doing this because so many people help out in so many ways.’’

On the court, the OLBH Classic has helped serve as a springboard for rising stars.

Hungarian teenager Agnes Szavay finished runner-up here in 2006 before her career caught fire. Her WTA ranking climbed to 13th this year and Szavay has already surpassed the $1 million mark in career prize money.

“You don’t know who we are going to have that may be doing the same thing is six months or a year from now,’’ Ditty said.

Canadian Alexandra Wozniak, who defeated Szavay in the OLBH final two years ago, won her first WTA championship this summer.

Wozniak defeated Marion Bartoli of France 7-5, 6-3 for the championship of the $500,000 Bank West Classic in California. Along the way, Wozniak got past an injured Serena Williams.

Wozniak is No. 42 on the latest WTA list.

“Before we started this tournament, who would have thought that a couple of years ago we would have players that would be at that level,’’ Ditty said. “I think it’s been exciting for the local community to see how well a lot of these players have done after they left Ashland.’’

A highlight for the 2008 tournament is the return of local product Julie Ditty, another player whose career is on an upswing.

Since winning the doubles title in Ashland with Milagros Sequera two years ago, Ditty vaulted all the way to No. 89 in singles this year. She is currently the second-highest player on the OLBH Tennis Classic entry list behind Maret Ani of Estonia.

Last month, Ditty broke through for her first victory in a Grand Slam event by reaching the U.S. Open Round of 16 in doubles with Carly Gullickson.

“It’s a really good feeling,’’ Ditty said. “It was the first time Carly and I had played together. We clicked right away and just had fun from the start.’’

Ditty and Gullickson will team up again for the OLBH Tennis Classic.

Ditty competed in Asia during the 2007 Ashland tournament, and it appeared she would be absent from the field again this year. She had committed to attend the wedding of former Vanderbilt teammate Sarah Riske during the same week. But when Riske, whose younger sister Allison is competing in Ashland, found out the tournament was in Ditty’s hometown she insisted that Julie stay and play.

OLBH Tennis Classic activities begin with a pre-qualifying Wild Card Tournament on Saturday and Sunday at Bellefonte Country Club and Russell High School. Entries will be received until Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The winner receives a wild card into the OLBH Classic’s main draw. Second- and third-place finishers in the wild-card event will get spots in the qualifier.

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

 

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