Court Report: This weekend's Davis Cup final between France and Croatia
HOUSTON—While Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev were battling it out in London for the ATP Finals championship last weekend, Americans Bradley Klahn and Lauren Davis were up against a formidable opponent, Mother Nature, on the campus of Rice University.
The two of them, along with fellow American Roy Smith and veteran Shuai Peng, waited throughout the day to play the men’s and women’s finals of the second leg of the Oracle Challenger Series. In the end, rain forced both championship matches indoors, where Klahn defeated Smith in straight sets, while Davis—who battled through the qualifying rounds—lost in three sets to Peng.
For Klahn and Davis, though, their runs to the finals carried an even greater prize: they now stand atop the leaderboard for a wild card into one of the sport’s most prestigious events, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.
It’s all part of the efforts for Oracle Corp., one of the world’s leading tech companies, to contribute to the growth and development of young players from the United States, said Mark Hurd, chief executive officer.
“For us at Oracle, we had a strategy to invest in sports,” says Hurd, noting that Oracle focuses on both tennis and sailing, with its efforts around the former centered at the professional level on Indian Wells. It’s a relationship that came about when Oracle founder Larry Ellison, outside of the auspices of the company, bought the tournament in 2009.
“He’s made this amazing show,” Hurd said of Ellison and the tournament, of which Oracle is a major sponsor. “We think that it has developed into maybe the greatest tournament in the world and that even includes some of the Grand Slams.”
For several years, the BNP Paribas Open has been recognized by the ATP as the best tournament on the Masters level, while the money, rankings points and prestige make it a coveted prize for anyone who enters. For a rising American player who could be on the outside looking in, the Oracle Challenger Series provides an opportunity for entry to the two men and women who accumulate the most points over four events, held in Chicago; Houston; Newport Beach, Calif.; and Indian Wells.
With its sponsorship of Indian Wells and college tennis in conjunction with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Oracle sees the Challenger series “really fitting in between those two things with a particular emphasis on trying to help American tennis,” says Hurd.
Another program that will be heading into its third year in 2019 is the Oracle US Tennis Awards, which gives a $100,000 grant to college players as they get ready to embark upon the professional tour. In 2018, Christopher Eubanks and Francesca Di Lorenzo received the award. Before that, the first grants went to Danielle Collins and McKenzie McDonald, who both made tremendous strides this year, reaching career highs in the rankings.
Hurd, an alumni of Baylor University, where he played on the tennis team, extols the benefits of college tennis.
“I think what college tennis does is provide a fantastic structure for kids,” says Hurd, “who perhaps are not ready to turn pro, to have time to develop and mature, and receive incredible coaching.”
Noting the financial difficulties associated with being a professional tennis player, the university setting can help in easing the transition from campus to courts around the world.
"You think of pro tennis and you think of the opportunity to go on the Futures circuit, you’re out there in tournaments where if you win it, you barely make enough money to pay your expenses,” Hurd added. “This is a really, really difficult lifestyle if you’re not in a position where you have a sponsor or some other set of support. So college tennis is an amazing vehicle to develop and mature players.”
Helping the next wave of American players is a natural fit for Oracle, Hurd said, stating that “there’s multiple intersections.”
“One, we recruit a lot of young people into the company so the alignment with college tennis has made a lot of sense for us,” he said. “Continuing to try to help the sport, to try to help develop the sport and certainly how it aligns to Oracle’s strategy are things we’re always considering.”