Denise Loveless-Forrest wants to make this very clear: The third year of the Southern Lifestyle Development Tennis Classic, a professional women's tournament at LSU’s tennis facility on Gourrier Avenue, is completely free.
“A lot of people think ‘professional tournament’ and think it costs money,” said Loveless-Forrest, director of the tournament.
As was the case the previous two years, this burgeoning tennis tournament won’t cost fans a dime. But the product on the courts is far from cheap, Loveless-Forrest ensures.
The weeklong Southern Lifestyle Development Classic is one of about 90 tournaments in the UTSA Pro Circuit, serving as the bridge for up-and-coming tennis players to reach major tennis tournaments in the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.
“It’s like a stepping stone to move on up the ladder to the French Open or the U.S. Open or a tournament such as that,” Loveless-Forrest said.
The tournament begins at 9 a.m. Sunday. with the singles qualifying round, which will end Monday. The main draw for the singles and doubles tournament will then begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday and continue Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The semifinals of the singles tournament will happen back-to-back on June 24. The doubles final will follow the singles semifinals, and the singles final will begin June 25 at.
Each day of the event should wrap up around 3-4 p.m., Loveless-Forrest said. Doubles matches will follow singles play each day.
Players who compete in these events usually sit 200th or higher in the WTA rankings, but they use these events to build points toward their ranking. For a tournament such as this one, in which the total prize money is $25,000, players can attain round points for the final qualifying round and each round of the main draw. They also get credit for competing in the tournament.
Loveless-Forrest, a Baton Rouge native who also serves a UTSA official, was among a group of people who helped establish Southern Lifestyle Development Tennis Classic.
The first year of the women’s event, when it was held at LSU’s old tennis facility, was not sanctioned until four months before the start of the tournament. With the help of corporate sponsors, the organization and overall operation of the event have improved, Loveless-Forrest said.
“I think the new facility helped tremendously but we learned a great deal what the players wanted, like providing ice bags,” she said. “The organization, we’ve gotten much better. We have a volunteer chairman that has gotten great volunteers come out and help. The more volunteers we have, the better the tournament runs.”
While Loveless-Forrest admits fans may not recognize many of the names competing in the tournament, they may eventually. Cici Bellis, the 18-year-old star ranked 40th in the world, competed at LSU last year and went on to reach the third round of the French Open earlier this month.
One player who will appear in this year’s Southern Lifestyle Development Tennis Classic who avid tennis fans may know is Nicole Gibbs, who lost to eventual-champion Serena Williams in the third round of the Australian Open in January. Gibbs, ranked No. 124, was a four-time national champion at Stanford and also reached the third round of the 2016 U.S. Open in doubles.