The RCA Championships will get under way this Saturday at the Indianapolis Tennis Center on the IUPUI campus. Voted as the International Gold Series "Tour of the Year" by ATP series players for the 11th time, the RCA has become a favorite warm-up tournament before the U.S. Cup in New York. That's a really big deal because it means really big deal tennis professionals like playing here. Those rave reviews keep tennis rock stars, like Indianapolis favorite Marat Safin, who's ranked No. 2 in the ATP Champions Race, and his fans coming back.
Tennis stars aside, local eyes will be anxiously gazing upon hometown tennis champs Brandon Currie and Troy Hahn. If you know local tennis, you know who they are. Currie, a recent Butler University graduate, was the star player leading his team to their first NCAA tournament last spring. Hahn, who will start his senior year at the University of Florida this fall, is a 2000 North Central High School graduate. He played on the U.S. National Team in 1998. They've both earned their opportunity to play in the qualifying matches for the RCA Championships happening this weekend.
"With as much good tennis as there is in Indianapolis, we've really submitted two very, very, good candidates to be wildcards," Jason Suscha, Butler University tennis coach, says. "These are two young players that are aspiring pros. They are very good tennis players who, on any given day, can play some really good tennis. They'll represent those wildcards really well."
Currie earned his wildcard into the qualifying round last month at the Pearson Ford Open. The RCA will be his first pro tournament. Originally from Milwaukee, he was a three-time high school state champion. Now, he's our own super nova who's just gotten his feet wet following the satellite circuit around the country, earning points and playing for more qualifier opportunities. Becoming successful means committing to the satellite tours. Currie says he's stayed in Indianapolis because there are so many great players here.
The weekend qualifying contests are underrated events at the RCA. Folks in the stands will witness an amazingly high level of tennis being performed. Guys like Currie and Hahn will put up a fight while playing for lunch money, vying to make it big. Little money and few ATP points are awarded at these futures, so players play a lot and with all their might. Currie is seeking sponsorship to help propel his career.
"Everyone's seeking sponsorship, unfortunately. That's the whole catch-22," Hahn's coach, Spencer Fields, says. "You need sponsorship but there's not a lot of sponsorship out there." Fields is the North Central High School tennis team's head coach and is a pro at the Indianapolis Racquet Club.
Currie and Hahn will most likely be playing recognizable names from the world of tennis, but just who won't be determined until the events begin. Entries are accepted late - so late a player can sign up the night before. The main draw fills up first and then players can sign up for the qualifying draw if their rankings are high enough. Then, only the highest ranked players who aren't in the main draw and are physically present may get in. If this sounds confusing, it's because it is.
Currie was ranked 34th in doubles by the NCAA, and 19th in the region even though he never cracked the NCAA top 100 in singles. Suscha says, "He never had enough big wins." Because Butler is a small school, fewer competitive opportunities exist than, say, with a Big 10 school.
An imposing player at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Currie not only moves well for his size, he moves well for a tennis player. "When you're hitting drop shots against him, he's there. When you're hitting wide balls, he's there," Suscha says. "He still maintains his agility and quickness. He's got good speed. That smoothness is very deceptive as far as being able to read shots. In particular off of his serve," which clocks 130 mph, usually followed up by a deadly accurate drop shot. His second serve clocks 130 mph, too.
Currie"s loose form hides his strength, which invariably bamboozles competitors. He isn't much of a power player outside of his serve. This substantial change of pace leaves his opponents little reaction time. "The rest of his game is more touch and feel," Suscha explains. "A lot of players don't play well against Brandon because of that. He changes pace a lot."
Hahn hasn't been misled by Currie. He beat Currie in the semis of the City Championships Open two months ago to get his wildcard. "He came out and played well," Currie says of Hahn.
"It's one of the better matches Troy's played," coach Fields adds. "He didn't loose a point on that serve until the 25th point of that match. We had a very good game plan going in."
Hahn has nearly four years of pro tournament experience under his belt. At the 2000 RCAs he competed and lost to the young tennis great, Xavier Malisse from Belgium. "He was up 5-4 serving against Xavier in the first set," Fields recalls.
Currie is looking forward to "Just competing" this week. He's excited to play and not the least bit concerned about who his big name competition might be. "I'll go play my game," he says. Hopefully, his unofficial fan club, composed of his young tennis students from Woodstock Country Club and his first-, second- and third-grade pupils from Indianapolis Public School 91 where he student taught, will be there to cheer him on with their "Give me a B!" hurrahs.
The world's best will soon encounter Indianapolis' best at the RCA Championship showdown. Currie and Hahn guarantee it.
The qualifying events take place Saturday, Aug. 10 and Sunday, Aug. 11. All tickets for the qualifiers are $8. Call 1(800)622-LOVE or (317) 239-5151 to order tickets for the qualifiers and all RCA Championship events. Visit www.rcatennis.com for the latest schedule.
Family fun at Championships
Your kids don't care that Nicolas Lapentti, Jonas Bjorkman and Wayne Ferreira are former RCA Championship champs. But they might after getting their ya-yas out constructively through the miracle of tennis.
The RCA Championships want you and your family to experience world-class tennis up close, personal and hands-on. Family Day at the RCA Championships takes place Aug. 10 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Children will have the opportunity to participate in lessons from tennis pros, like Spencer Fields from North Central High School, and cheer on their favorite pro in a head-to-head game of Survivor, tennis-style. Face painting, magic shows, animals and mascots provide fun the whole family can enjoy. Kids aged 6 and under get in free. Tickets are $8. Family Packs, including food, are $20.
Monday, Aug. 12 is Kid's Day, offering events for all ages. In the morning, the younger kids can take to the courts for a tennis clinic with pros and ATP players. They'll tour the NCAA Hall of Champions and learn about the "RICHER" principles. The afternoon session, primarily for older kids, focuses on fine-tuning tennis skills. The NCAA will present the "Stay in Bounds" program, too. Tickets for Kid's Day are $8.
And you can't forget about Mercedes-Benz Ladies" Day. The 2002 Mercedes-Benz Ladies" Day takes place on Friday, Aug. 16 from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Women can participate in a tennis-fitness clinic from 8:30-10:20 a.m. featuring tennis legend John Lloyd. A door prize giveaway will follow. A luncheon and style show, presented by the Tarkington Trend, kicks off at 11 a.m. Afterwards, women can browse through the vendor booths. The afternoon session of tennis begins at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $30, $40 for both the tennis-fitness clinic and the luncheon and style show. Contact Karen at (317) 849-9580 to register.
Visit the RCA Championships Web site at www.rcatennis.com to get the full schedule and more information on the above special events. Call 1(800)622-LOVE or (317) 239-5151 for ticket information.