For the fourth consecutive year the Bakersfield Racquet Club is hosting the biggest USTA Pro Circuit event in California’s Central Valley.

The Bakersfield Tennis Open begins today and runs through Sunday when the tournament’s singles and doubles finals will be played on the club’s center court.

The USTA Futures event provides an opportunity for local tennis fans to watch up close some of the top up-and-coming men’s players in the world.

The six-day Main Draw will feature 32 singles players and 16 doubles teams. They will be vying for a total of $25,000 in prize money.

Despite that large payout, the tournament is free for spectators to watch.

Matches start at 11 a.m. today through Friday and run through late afternoon. Those four days there are also evening matches starting at 6 p.m.

“This is one solid, good event,” Tournament Director Mark Fredriks said. “The players that come in here; they come in from around the world and many other areas of the United States, but they find this to be one of their favorite stops.”

Nine of the singles entries earned their way into the Main Draw by either the wild card tournament (one player) or qualifying tournament (eight players) and the other 23 were invited to play.

Twenty-four players that will be competing in singles are ranked in the top 800 in the world. Last year the tournament had 18 players ranked in the top 800.

“Two years ago we went from $15,000 to $25,000 (in prize money),” Fredriks said. “That jump brought the level of play way up.”

The player in the tournament with the highest world ranking is No. 1 seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium. The 2012 French Open Junior Champion is currently No. 200 in the ATP singles world rankings.

Coppejans had to earn his way into the main draw via the qualifying tournament.

The 23-year old’s first singles match is Wednesday.

“I’m the top seed so there might be a little pressure on me, but I try to do my thing, play my matches like any other match,” Coppejans said. “We’ll see where it will get me. There are plenty of good players here so each match will be a tough match.”

Two years ago Coppejans was ranked as high as No. 97 in the world.

“The goal is to get back into the top 100,” Coppejans said. “That’s my main goal.”

Three Americans (No. 5 Marcos Giron, No. 7 Christian Harrison and No. 8 Jared Hiltzik) are among the tournament’s eight seeded singles players.

Almost half the singles draw (15 players) is made up of Americans. That group includes Conner Smith, who is ranked No. 586 in the world in singles.

“I’ve been out for awhile (with a shoulder) injury,” The Tampa, FL native said. “They gave me a wild card so I came out to play … ” This is a nice event … The club is really involved. It’s a good atmosphere.”

If Smith wins his first round match against fellow American Evan Song, his likely second-round opponent will be No. 4 seed Finn Tearney of New Zealand.

Tearney, currently ranked 414th in the world in singles, went to college at Pepperdine and thought the tournament would be a good opportunity to come back to California and visit some friends.

“It’s a really nice club and I obviously have a pretty tough draw,” Tearney said. “I’m just focused on my first match and just try and play well.”

For more information, fans can visit the tournament’s web site

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