National tennis hopefuls join battle on Blue Hill

The pop-thwack, pop-thwack of racquets striking tennis balls is not unusual at the Sportsmen's Tennis Club. But 32 tennis champs who are thwacking balls across the courts there this week have earned some distinction.

A slew of nationally-ranked players are helping to raise the Blue Hill Avenue venue's profile in the second annual US Tennis Association's Women's $50,000 Pro Challenger tournament. Now through next Wednesday, players are competing to win the big bucks and a slot in the venerable US Open.

The event will feature Julie Ditty, former player on the Middleton-based Boston Lobster tennis team and now ranked 99 in the world. Another notable player is the daughter of retired NBA giant Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Alexandra Stevenson, a former Wimbledon semifinalist. Matches begin at 10 a.m. every day through Sunday, with semi-finals and finals held Saturday and Sunday.

Peter Van Delft, the club's spokesman, said that the event will bring more exposure to the club's various programs as well as a chance for those in the community to watch competitive tennis.

"For tennis, you have to travel around. In Dorchester you really don't see that kind of thing," Delft said.

 "The most important thing is that we're bringing professional tennis to a place that hasn't had professional tennis in a long time," said USTA's tour supervisor Missy Malool said of the decision to choose Sportsmen's for two years in a row.

Sportsmen's, which started in 1961, is said to be the oldest African-American owned-and-operated indoor/ outdoor tennis club in the United States. The club draws its members from the local community and beyond, ages five to 91. Steve Tompkins, chairman of the club's board, said that around 1000 Boston-area youth are served every year at Sportsmen's.

During the summer, they offer tennis camps, which run from July 7 through August 23. At the day-long camps, children learn tennis and take literacy, math, Spanish, and chess classes. Adult programs are also available.

To purchase semi-final and final tickets for the event or get more information about the club, call 617-288-1156 or sportsmenstennisclub.org.

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