One of Georgia's top annual amateur tennis tournaments begins Thursday at Petersburg Racquet Club.
The 2010 Banana Open Tennis Tournament will be held Thursday through Sunday at the Martinez-based tennis center. It annually draws 175 to 200 players.
"It's one of the biggest sanctioned tournaments in the state for (the National Tennis Ratings Program)," said Craig Jones, the owner and director of tennis operations for Petersburg Racquet Club.
"We're in the top five each year."
The Banana Open acts as a qualifying tournament for a South Carolina competition also named for the potassium-rich fruit.
"There are multiple open tournaments in cities throughout the Southeast that feed into this thing called the Banana Challenge in Hilton Head," Jones explained. "It started with a guy in Hilton Head and I think Del Monte ... was originally a sponsor of the tournament. Thus, the name."
In addition to the Banana Challenge, held in October, the Banana Open also serves as a qualifying tournament for the Georgia Tournament of Champions in Peachtree City, also held in October.
Sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association, the Tournament of Champions was started by the USTA's adult competition committee in Georgia, which Jones led.
"We were trying to figure out how to increase adult tournament participation in the state of Georgia," Jones said. "League tennis is huge, but rewinding the clock 30 years, tournaments were way bigger than leagues.
"Our committee, three years ago, came up with this idea to increase tournament participation."
It is Jones' belief in reviving a strong tennis tournament tradition that prompted him to go all out on the Banana Open.
"To me, tournaments are like a celebration of tennis," he said. "What we're known for is food and beverage. That's one of the reasons we have such big draws. We always have a keg of beer and food."
Though spectators are welcome, Jones said only tournament participants and one guest may eat and drink free.
The Banana Open will feature men's and women's singles, doubles and mixed doubles in 2.5 to 5.0 divisions.
Divisions are similar to golf handicaps, except that better players move higher up the scale.
Registration for the tournament can be completed at www.usta.com and www.prctennis.com. The cost is $30 per person for the first event and $15 for subsequent events.
For information, call Petersburg Racquet Club at (706) 860-9288.
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