By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
WHILE play in the main draw won’t get started until Wednesday, the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association is allowing 14 other male players to earn eight spots out of the qualifying round to join the top eight in the Giorgio Baldacci Battle of the Elite Players Tournament.
It’s the first time that the BLTA is having a qualifying round, which will get started today at the National Tennis Centre. The decision was made based on the amount of players who have signed up to participate in the event, which is being held in honour of Baldacci, a former coach and benefactor of the majority of the players.
Ceron Rolle and Robert Lightbourne, the top two seeds respectively, were awarded a bye and won’t have to play anymore as they will automatically move into the main draw. That leaves Jyles Turnquest, Ryan Knowles, Kevaughn Ferguson, O’Neil Mortimer, Ashwood Hall, Edward Symonette, Dirnaj Saunders, Joshua Turnquest, Anthony Burrows, Shannon Francis and Breon Saunders to compete for the final six spots in the qualifying round.
Today, starting at 9am, Kevaughn Ferguson is slated to play Oneil Mortimer on court one, Joshua Turnquest faces Anthony Burrows on court two, Ashwood Hall will tangle with Edward Symonette on court three and Dirnaj Saunders meets Robert Smith on court four.
Following those matches, Jyles Turnquest will square off against Ryan Knowles on court one and Shannon Francis and Breon Saunders will battle it out on court two.
Kevin Major Sr, who along with Sandy Reid are coordinating the tournament this year, said one of the reasons for the change in the format is to accommodate the amount of players who have signed up to compete this year.
“We have eight players in the qualifying round, but the top two have already advanced to the main draw because we don’t have sufficient players to play them,” Major Sr said. “We now have six spots left and the other 12 players will get a chance to compete for them.
“We decided to give everybody who feels they have a chance to compete for the Bahamas the opportunity to compete for their spot. They will first have to go through the qualifying round in order to get a chance to compete against those players who are our potential national team players.”
Major Sr said the tournament is being set up similar to any major tournament that the players compete in overseas where they play in the qualifying round to prove that they deserve the right to compete in the main draw.
From the qualifying round, the players will advance to the main draw where they will face the top eight players who have signed up in No.1 seed Devin Mullings from Grand Bahama, No.2 Kevin Major Jr, No.3 Jamal Adderley, also from Grand Bahama, No.4 Marvin Rolle and unseeded Justin Lunn, Rodney Carey Jr, another Grand Bahamian, Jody Turnquest and William Fountain.
The main draw is scheduled to get started 9am Wednesday and will run through Saturday. The players will play in a single elimination format.
Major Jr, who is recovering from a three-week injury to his right wrist, said he’s looking forward to playing in the tournament this year.
“I’m hoping to win. I don’t think that I shouldn’t win,” said the 18-year-old top junior player, who is preparing to enrol in college next year. “I’ve been playing very confidently and I feel my game is coming along very well. I think I’ve learned a lot about the sport. I think if I had learnt some of the things I know now, my game would have been further ahead.”
Last year, Major Jr lost in the semifinal to eventual tournament winner Devin Mullings. But based on the way he’s playing right now, Major Jr said there’s no reason why he should not prevail all the way to the top at the end of the weekend.
Unlike the men, the field is much smaller on the ladies’ side with only six players entered. Simone Pratt is the top seed, followed by Larikah Russell from Grand Bahama at No.2, Danielle Thompon at No.3 and Nikkita Fountain at No.4. The others are Iesha Shephard and Shay’Tonya Missick from Grand Bahama.
The women will also play in a single elimination format.
To add some more flavour to the tournament, players will also get a chance to compete in the men and women doubles competition. The draw for that segment has not yet been released.
The BLTA is hoping to use the tournament to monitor those players who will be eligible for the 2014 men’s Davis Cup team and the women’s Fed Cup team.
The Davis Cup team will play out of the Americas Group III June 2-7 at the Palmas Athletic Club in Humacao, Puerto Rico against Bermuda, Costa Rica, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago, while the Fed Cup team will play in the Americas Group I February 5-8 at the Paraguayan Yacht and Golf Club in Lambare, Paraguay against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela.
From the Davis Cup where the teams will be divided into two pools of four teams, two teams will be promoted to Group II in 2015. The Fed Cup will be divided into two pools of three and four teams with the two winners clashing to determine who will advance to the World Group II playoffs in April. The two teams with the worst records will be relegated to Americas Zone Group II.