By Jennifer Tuohy for Island Eye News
For tennis fans in the Charleston area the next nine days is pure heaven. Right here on Daniel Island, the world’s greatest female tennis players will compete for the title of the 42nd Family Circle Cup Champion.
The Family Circle Cup begins Saturday, March 29 and runs through April 6. It is the first stop on the clay season tour for these ladies, making it an important warm-up tournament for the French Open on the red clay of Paris’ Roland Garros in May.
This year’s line-up includes some of the greats of women’s tennis and some great looking up-and-comers.
“We have Serena Williams, the 2-time defending champion, and Venus, who just won for the first time this year in Dubai a couple weeks ago,” Bob Moran, tournament director, said in an interview with The Island Eye News. “We have some young guns including American Sloane Stephens, and Eugenie Bouchard, a young Canadian who is 17 or 18 in the world and only 20 years old. It’s a really good combination of the old guard and the next generations of players that are coming up.”
The player field now has six returning past champions; Nadia Petrova joins the Williams sisters, Sabine Lisicki, Jelena Jankovic and Samantha Stosur. Charleston local Shelby Rogers brings the American player list to ten, the most American entries into the main draw since 2001, when 11 players from the U.S. played.
While 2014 is the tournament’s 15th year in Charleston, its roots run much deeper in South Carolina’s history. The Family Circle Cup was developed before there was even a Women’s Tennis Association tour, and has been held in the state for 42 years; 28 in Hilton Head and 15 in Charleston. Throughout that time it has been sponsored by Family Circle magazine
“There’s really no other event that’s had the same title sponsor for that long a period,” Moran said. “Family Circle got involved in tennis is 1973, when there was no women sports on TV, it was the first women’s sporting event broadcast on NBC.”
Rosie Casals had the distinction of being the tournament’s first winner, and her winner’s check of $30,000 was the biggest single check won by any female professional tennis player in 1973. Her match against Nancy Richey in the final was the first women’s tennis match seen on the NBC network.
But if you’re not sure if tennis is really your thing, there’s still a lot of good reasons to check out the tournament next week.
“We really focus a lot on what happens outside the tennis,” Moran said. “Our opening weekend is family weekend where kids under 13 are free. There are all sorts of kids’ activities, jump castles, face painting, tennis clinics. We are really trying to develop that younger generation’s interest in tennis.”
Monday, March 31 is the first Ladies Day Out. For the price of a regular Monday ticket ($60 for terrace level, $25 for GA grandstand), ladies will enjoy a variety of extra activities including a red carpet entrance and photo opportunity, attendee gifts for the first 1,000 through gates, a tennis fashion show, skirt! Serves Lounge, Vanity Salon Style Bus, seminars on health and wellness and liquor tastings.
“We also have live music every night, Tuesday through Friday,” Moran said. “We want people to enjoy the experience outside the stadium just as much as they do inside.”
The tournament is also an excellent advertisement for the Charleston area. Thursday through Sunday matches will be broadcast live on ESPN2 with tennis veterans Cliff Drysdale and Pam Shriver providing the commentary.
“They’ve been with us as long as we’ve been here,” Moran said. “They love Charleston and we love them.”
In addition, for the first time all matches played in the stadium will be broadcast live online on ESPN3. But that’s no excuse to stay at home to watch great tennis when you can see it live, right here in your own backyard.
Tickets to the 2014 Family Circle Cup are on sale via Ticketmaster or by calling the box office at 800. 677.2293. Patrons can purchase single session tickets, or choose from a variety of ticket packages. For more information and for a schedule of matches visit www.familycirclecup.com.