VanOpen tennis tournament in West Van is in full swing

The Odlum Brown VanOpen skipped a year, 2016, leaving a hole in the tennis circuit for younger players looking to compete and improve their rankings – but the next year the West Vancouver tennis event came back with a vengeance as one of three winners of the ATP Challenger Tournament Award, the first tournament in Canada to win it.

This has set the bar high for the annual tennis championship that will attract elite players from around the world to Hollyburn Country Club from Aug. 11 to 19.

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Carlota Lee, tournament chair, said she believes they won the award, which is voted on by players and the tennis federation, for many reasons –  the club, the views, the transportation, the overall atmosphere; but one aspect stands out and that is the billeting of players, something most European players aren’t used to.

“We have to keep our reputation up,” Lee said about vying for the Challenger Tournament Award again. “But it’s a good problem.”

The majority of players are billeted on the North Shore instead of staying in hotels, and as people hear about the billeting, they start asking for it, Lee elaborated.

The Odlum Brown is part of the ATP World Tour for men and the ITF Pro Circuit for women, and 140 players are expected to compete for $200,000 in prize money and rankings.

Several female players coming to the Odlum Brown are ranked in the top 140 tennis players in the world, including Pauline Parmentier of France, currently ranked No. 70, Kateryna Kozlova from the Ukraine, currently ranked 82, 94th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer from Belgium, 98th-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, Japan’s Nao Hibino who is 104th, and Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, ranked 105th.

On the men’s side, in addition to Canada’s rising tennis star, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Pierre-Hughes Herbert, who has won several Grand Slam titles, including this year’s French Open, will be at the Hollyburn courts.

Other talent expected this year at the West Vancouver event are Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, currently ranked 92nd, and Jordan Thomas from Australia, ranked 98th.

Lee volunteers full time to make sure the event takes place – she can do so as she’s retired from a career in accounting.

As the tournament approaches, Lee is going full-tilt to get all her ducks in a row, and is averaging five hours of sleep leading up to opening day.

The biggest challenge in chairing the tournament is getting sponsors for the event as well as co-ordinating the 110 volunteers and 80 ball kids, Lee said.

Lee herself started playing tennis in her mid-teens and she credits her life-long love of the sport to a teacher who took an interest in her tennis.

Part of the mandate of VanOpen is to promote tennis and that includes having an event for young players, promoting wheelchair tennis and exposing inner-city kids to tennis.

For the second year running, VanOpen organized a community day in July and invited 40 kids who might not otherwise be exposed to the sport to come and learn about tennis.

“If I’ve inspired one inner-city kid to start tennis, I’ve done my job,” she said.

Also, to help kids learn about the sport, the VanOpen holds a free clinic for youth aged six to 12 – Lee is trying to organize a Q&A with players after the clinic as well. She wants younger players to see how accessible the sport is.

“It’s not an elite sport,” Lee said. “If you have passion, a little bit of talent and drive, anyone can (play).”

While events begin on Aug. 11, the opening ceremonies will take place on Aug. 14 followed by a wheelchair tennis demonstration with guest speaker Rick Hansen at 6:15 p.m. followed by feature matches at 7 p.m.

Admission is free on the first two days, Aug. 11 and 12, with the first round of men’s singles qualifying matches taking place on Aug. 11 and men’s and women’s singles qualifying taking place on Aug. 12.

Wednesday, Aug. 15 will feature Kids Day clinics from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but as this is a popular event, advance registration is encouraged on the tournament website. On this day, kids aged 12 and under will be free all day at the VanOpen.

Hollyburn Country Club is at 950 Cross Creek Rd., West Vancouver.

 For information on the Odlum Brown VanOpen, go to vanopen.com.

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