The calendar still says winter, but spring cleaning has been in full swing at the Bakersfield Racquet Club for weeks. They have been retouching the paint and sprucing up the gardens, all in preparation to play host again for the fifth annual Bakersfield Tennis Open. As the U.S. Tennis Association Men’s Future Pro Tournament rolls into town Saturday, 64 professional athletes from around the globe will vie for $25,000 in prize money and the chance to add hardware to their resume.
“It is the best nine days of the year,” said Mark Fredriksz, the tournament’s director and BRC pro.
Nearly 4,000 spectators are expected at visit BRC from Saturday through March 18 and watch world-class players for free, from seats that will afford them the kind of access that elsewhere might easily cost $1,500 a ticket.
“You are literally 10 feet away, looking through a chain-link fence at a guy hitting a 130-mile-per-hour ball,” Fredriksz added.
The Bakersfield stop is gaining momentum, and garnering appreciation from players. Past participants have gone on to play at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. 2015’s winner Francis Tiafoe nearly upset Roger Federer in the first round of last year’s U.S. Open. In 2016, the pro-circuit athletes voted the Bakersfield Tennis Open as the best because of the local tennis community’s hospitality.
Scores of people from across the city rally for the event by helping with transportation, meals and housing for officials and players. In 2015, Norwegian Adrian Skogeng, who had played college tennis at the University of Mississippi, arrived in town with his racquet and a suitcase, but no firm housing arrangements. Gary and Laurie Haagsma were new to the sport but opened their doors to Skogeng.
“Our grown kids thought I was crazy at first, but it was a great experience for Adrian and us,” Laurie Haagsma said. “We didn’t realize the financial hardships the players are facing.”
Skogeng, who is now back in his native land, had more than just a chauffeur and surrogate family for the week; he gained lifelong friends in the Haagsmas. He was eliminated early on, but stayed with them until the tournament’s end when the couple drove him to his next competition in Southern California.
Players like Skogeng rely on the hospitality of strangers as they chase their dreams of rising through the tennis ranks. The past two years the Haagsmas housed an American player, Wil Spencer from Florida.
“Laurie and Gary were so wonderful to me,” Spencer said. “She made it possible for me to make some extra money that week by organizing clinics for her tennis friends.” The couple will open their home for the fourth time this week.
The host club is responsible for housing officials, whether in hotels or private homes.
Last year members Kent and Cindy Seibly housed two umpires from the Los Angeles area.
They saw it as a chance to defray some of the event’s costs. It was such a pleasant experience, they requested the two men again this year.
“It is another way of giving back by supporting our club,” Cindy Seibly said. “People work so hard to elevate tennis awareness in the community and expose people to high-caliber-level play. It is so fun to support them, then watch them a few years later as they hit the big time.”
It is widely known on the pro-circuit that Bakersfield takes care of its players.
“Getting to stay with a host family will always be one of the best moments I’ve had playing on the tour,” said Abraham Asaba, a native of Ghana, who stayed with Bennett and Rhonda Slagers in 2015 and now considers them like family.
Organizers say, when everything finally comes together on center court, it will be almost symphonic.
“We are all working together because of our shared love of the game of tennis and it’s wonderful,” Fredriksz added.