California Championships pits Golden State pros against all comers

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When it comes to producing professional tennis players in the U.S., California has been a particularly prolific locale, with Pete Sampras, Stan Smith and other greats from the sport getting their start in the Golden State.

It’s never been determined, though, who would be California's “king of the courts.” But a special tournament starting this weekend could make some inroads in determining that champion—for this year, at least—as juniors, college players and other amateurs get to take their shot at the title against some elite-level competition.

The California Championships will field a staggering 512-player draw, utilizing a staggered entry format based on Universal Tennis Ratings, to ensure a fair fight. Seeds will be determined by UTR, with everyone eligible to play for a portion of the $30,000 prize money.

“UTR is providing the tools and technology to support local organizers and make it easier to run more creative and engaging tennis events,” said Stephen Amritraj, Universal Tennis chief tennis officer. “We’re excited to work with Tracy Austin and the Jack Kramer Club to enable the California Championships.

Amateurs beware, though: Steve Johnson (UTR 15.49), Sam Querrey (UTR 15.40), Taylor Fritz (UTR 15.21), Mardy Fish and Tommy Haas are among the top-flight competitors in the tournament.

“We believe this model of level-based play can be replicated worldwide to provide more opportunities for player development, better competition and increased revenue for local clubs,” Amritraj added.

Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel commentator Tracy Austin will be the honorary tournament chair.

“The California Championships is a groundbreaking tennis event and I am honored to help bring it to life,” said Austin. “This event offers juniors, adults and college players an amazing chance to develop and improve their UTR against players of all levels, including today’s top pros.”

 Querrey appreciates the innovations created by this new event.

“I wish I had the chance to play in a format like this when I was younger and been able to test my skills against players of all ages, levels and game styles,” said the 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist. “It would have been fantastic for my development and given me a better understanding of my game. I’m happy that everyone gets this opportunity now.”

Johnson, one of college tennis’ all-time great players at the University of Southern California, and the former top-ranked American male professional, noted that there will be some extra incentive to win the tournament.

“Most of us live in California and train together," he said, "so to crown someone the Champion of California definitely increases the bragging rights for the year."

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