As part of the BNP Paribas Open, 8 men's teams (NCAA D-I) convene on the final weekend of the event to play the "Collegiate Challenge". Ticket holders will be able to see some of the nation's best ranked tennis players including top 10 players #4 Julian Lenz, #7 Axel Alvarez Llamas, and #8 Yannick Hanfmann. The Collegiate Challenge offers an excellent platform for college tennis to gain wider popularity and is reason enough to dedicate this week's Friday Scholarship Guide to the action in Indian Wells.
A place unknown to most becomes the center of the tennis world year after year in the month of March. The tournament in the Coachella Valley in the desert of California has a rich history since its beginnings in the 70's. A combined event of the ATP and WTA tour today, the venue offers the second largest tennis stadium in the world. The event is part of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000, as well as the WTA Premier tournament series, which naturally attracts the world elite competing for the big winner's cheque.
Alongside the big names competing in the quarterfinals (Men's), semifinals (M&W), and finals (M&W) in singles and doubles competition on the final three days of this event, there's a group of other tennis players competing. We're talking the same sport, the same (or even more?) emotional intensity, but no prize money:
The "BNP PARIBAS OPEN COLLEGIATE CHALLENGE"
8 NCAA Division I men's tennis teams get together to compete in a tournament format, with the winning teams moving on to the next round and the losing ones moving into the consolidation bracket of the event. The event was held in 2014 for the first time with 4 teams competing and was expanded further to 8 teams this year. With Oracle as official sponsor, the event has a strong supporter in the CEO, who himself is an alumnus of Baylor University and former college athlete:
"We hope this event will encourage more fans to support and follow collegiate tennis in their communities." (Mark Hurd)
The participating teams will be:
Different from the pros competitions, the college matches will be held in the usual dual match ITA format, including 3 doubles and 6 singles matches, as well as no-ad scoring. Each team will play 3 matches, which count toward the official collegiate team records for this year's season.
We think this is an excellent element of the tournament's program. Spectators who often don't have much to do with college tennis or college sports in general have the chance to get a taste of the intensity and passion on the court. The international audience who often doesn't have a clue about intercollegiate competitions gets to watch some of the country's best players. And finally the young spectators and ball kids feel what it must be like to represent a college on the tennis court.
"Today's collegiate tennis players will be some of the stars of tomorrow, and showcasing their talent alongside the best players in the world is a terrific opportunity to promote the college game." (Mark Hurd)
It's also a fantastic opportunity for the roughly 50 athletes who will get as close to a professional event as possible. Granted, it will be the practice courts 3-14, but delivering a clinching win a stone's throw away from the world elite competing in the grand Stadium 1 at the same time is certainly not an everyday routine. This can truly tip the scales in favor of pro tennis for some of the guys.
Former college player John Isner said last year:"Getting them a little bit immersed in a situation like this is only good for them. Maybe have those guys see what it's like at this level. It's a lot of fun. We're at the top of the tennis level here. You're playing in a big stadium here. It doesn't get any better in the tennis world, really. It's good for college and future pro players to see, in my opinion."
Are you questioning whether people would find the way to the practice courts where the action is taking place? We wouldn't worry too much about that: College tennis is loud, wild, rough, and spectators will certainly hear the battles going on during the weekend. They will make themselves be heard, because...
"What you're going to see isn't just some great players, you're going to see some future pro players," Mr. Hurd said last year.
...and they'll most certainly leave it all out there on the court.
Prior to the collegiate competition this weekend, two current student-athletes also tried their luck in the men's qualifying singles event as amateurs:
Both won their first round matches against well-established players, but were defeated in the second and final qualifying round against not less popular names. While Mackenzie is done in Indian Wells for this year, Hanfmann gets yet another chance, this time in college tennis again, as he represents USC as #1 player in the lineup:
The tournament's innovative approach since last year is absolutely great. They got the infrastructure, the audience, and the right timing with spring break around this time of the year. We're hoping this will remain an integral part of the event in the years to come and perhaps a potential best-practice case for other tournaments to follow suit. The players profit, the tournament does, and so do the spectators.
However, given the WTA tour hasn't yet seen equal numbers of female college players move on to turn pro, we'd love to see this happening for women's college tennis as well.
Stay tuned and check out the results to come in this weekend. If you get the chance to go see some great tennis in Indian Wells, don't miss out on the unique atmosphere the guys will create and see what it is like to be on a tennis scholarship, while studying. Feel free to get in touch with us in case you have any questions!