LAKEWOOD RANCH — It’s been called the Grand Slam of college tennis.
Nearly 20 men-and-women college tennis teams will take to the court Nov. 9 through Nov. 11, in the 2012 Dick Vitale Intercollegiate Clay Court Classic, at the Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center.
The tournaments is free and open to the public, with a portion of the proceeds going to The V Foundation for cancer research.
The 2012 Dick Vitale Intercollegiate Clay Court Classic, which is the only clay-court tournament in the country, will begin with the opening round of the men’s and women’s doubles tournament at 9 a.m. The opening round of the women’s singles tournament will follow at 10 a.m., and the opening round of the men’s singles tournament will begin at noon.
Play for the 32 draw men’s and women’s singles tournaments will continue throughout the weekend, with the women’s final set for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 11. A juniors exhibition will be held at 11:30 a.m. followed by the men’s final at noon.
“I just enjoy the whole atmosphere,” head tennis professional Chris Marquez said. “To be able to have college tennis here — it’s a cool thing to watch. The members and the community like it.”
This year’s tournament features several new teams, including the University of Florida women’s team, which is the two-time defending national champion, and the Princeton and University of South Florida men’s tennis teams.
“It’s all word of mouth,” Marquez said. “The coaches and players say this is one of the best tournaments in the country. Between the weather, the members being host families and Dick (Vitale’s) part in this, it’s a different kind of tournament.”
In addition, the tournament will feature several players with either local ties to the area or pro level points.
Prior to the tournament, the club will hold a welcome party for the players at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. The event, which includes dinner and live music by Joel Fisher, is $25 and will offer the community an opportunity to meet the coaches and players who will be competing throughout the weekend.
Nov. 9, the Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center will hold a Friday Night Lights event from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wristbands are $15 and include unlimited beer and wine, snacks and live entertainment. Food and drinks also will be available for purchase throughout the tournament.
“We’re trying to create a U.S. Open-type of festive atmosphere,” Marquez said. “It’s most festive like a party. We’re trying to create a good fan base, and we want (people) to enjoy everything (about the tournament).”