PALM HARBOR — Less than a week after top PGA Tour players, including Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Patrick Reed, depart Innisbrook after play wraps at the 2019 Valspar Championship, the resort will play host to professionals from another sport.
The inaugural Innisbrook Tennis Open, starting Sunday, March 31 through Sunday, April 7, at the Innisbrook Tennis Center, will feature a Women’s USTA Pro Tour 80K event featuring several top-100 players as well an Invesco Series senior match play event on Thursday, April 4, featuring tennis legends Jim Courier, James Blake, Mardy Fish and one of the greatest players of all time, John McEnroe.
“It’s huge. Huge,” Innisbrook Tennis Director Joe Mattingly said of the appearance by McEnroe, who is known as much for his confrontational style as his 77 singles titles and 7 grand slam victories. “As a golfing community, even the golfers know John McEnroe. Him being here is huge boost to the event.”
Mattingly said McEnroe, who retired from singles play in 1996 and has since enjoyed a career as a TV tennis analyst as well as on the senior tour, recently announced he will only play three more tournaments as a pro, with Innisbrook being one of them.
“We plan to have a little ceremony on center court and present him with a cake and a gift,” he said, noting McEnroe is scheduled to participate in VIP backstage and play-with-the-pro experiences prior to the start of the senior match play event at 2 p.m. on April 4. “He’s only playing three more events, and this is one of them, so this is a big deal.”
Mattingly, a former player and coach and longtime facility director who has boosted Innisbrook’s tennis profile and camp memberships since taking over the program in the fall of 2017, said he knows they have to take it slow and built a tournament of this stature.
“I had a discussion with Mike Williams about getting a tournament here, and he said get the right date and dollar amount and you will attract the pros here,” he explained, referring to Innisbrook’s managing director. “My idea was to try to get the same date as Charleston, that way the girls who don’t qualify for that event would come here. So, we should get several top-100 players in the world.”
With the date, and an impressive $80,000 purse, secured, Mattingly decided to add the Invesco Series event in order to make the inaugural Innisbrook Tennis Open more attractive to the casual tennis fan.
“Once we secured the date and I did some training on running a tournament of this scale, I met with Jim Courier’s playing partner and said is it possible to do this here and he said they’d love to get back into the Tampa market.”
Indeed, McEnroe is a huge name worldwide, but Courier, a Dade City native who trained at the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, now known as IMG Academy, in Bradenton, and Blake, who retired in 2013 with 10 career singles titles, enjoy large followings, also, a fact that has been reflected by early ticket sales.
“The presale tickets are the best they’ve ever seen,” Mattingly said, noting the seating capacity for center court is 1,200, not including the VIP section, which will be set up on a balcony overlooking the court. “We can get it up to 2,000 if we need to. And at this rate, I think we’ll need to.”
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