The tennis tournament celebrates two decades in January.
The Observer Tennis Challenge is serving up its 20th year of friendly competition.
From Jan. 9 to Jan. 12, dozens of tennis players will descend upon the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center for the beloved annual event.
The Observer puts on the tournament every year, but the Tennis Center wasn’t always a favorite of your local paper. CEO Matt Walsh remembers the late 1990s on the Key, when the Colony reigned supreme as the tennis destination and the Walshes had only become newspaper owners a few years prior.
“In the Longboat Observer, we argued in an editorial against the town funding the tennis center,” Walsh recalls. “We didn’t think taxpayers should be subsidizing essentially this playground for tennis players.”
Well, that made a lot of people pretty angry with the paper, so after the Tennis Center did get built, the Observer wanted to show that it would support the endeavor.
“We wanted to show people that the Observer was a good community paper and show our support,” Walsh said. “As a gesture of goodwill, we decided to make amends for the position.”
And thus, the Observer Tennis Challenge was born. Since its 2001 inception, it’s grown from a tournament with just some members to a massive weekend event.
“It’s amazing how big its grown,” Tennis Center manager Kay Thayer said. “As time goes on, it’s nice because it incorporates the whole island.”
The competition is fierce, but the players put it aside for the social aspect of the tournament. On the first day, in this case Jan. 9, players and guests attend a cocktail party. In the 20th year, the tournament aims to shake things up by announcing the draws at the party instead of ahead of time, Thayer said. Players will know the times they play ahead of time, but until the party, they won’t know their opponents.
“We’re trying to make the party a little different,” Thayer said. “We want to make it a little nicer.”
All the bases of play are covered in this tournament. Men and women join in teams of four and play doubles, mixed doubles and singles. Strategy factors into the tournament, as after they play doubles as a team, the players must select their strongest singles and doubles players for both avenues of play. The playing field gets leveled that way, as the wrong selection could hurt your team.
Players can enter the tournament for $45 each. Call 316-8367 for more.