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A partial history of important tennis events in Arizona

Matt Zemek



John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Tennis Classic begins its existence on March 11 in Phoenix. The second week of Indian Wells will rightly gain global tennis headlines, but as far as ATP Challenger Tour events go, this one has the makings of something special, with a $125K purse and a field to match. Tickets are available here. 

While Indian Wells has not only a Masters 1000, but a tournament with a 96-player field often regarded as a “fifth major,” Phoenix hasn’t been able to retain a tennis event which catches the attention of global fans. The Arizona Tennis Classic is an attempt to fit into the March tennis calendar in the United States, not to eclipse or overshadow the bigger tournaments in Indian Wells and then Miami. No one will overstate the event’s importance. It is, however, a comeback for professional tennis in Arizona.

It is well worth remembering that this state used to have regular tour stops, at a point in time when the two tours were more expansive in geographical reach and the number of tournaments proliferated before being downsized in recent years.

The Arizona-based tournament most tennis fans (over 40 years old) will remember is the ATP’s WCT Scottsdale Open, which began in 1986 and flowed into different names before moving to Las Vegas in 2006 and dying in 2008. This event started as the WCT Scottsdale Open, then became the Purex Tennis Championships, then the Franklin Templeton Classic, then the Tennis Channel Open.

It drew the big names to Scottsdale, the eastside Phoenix suburb, as you can see:

The women’s tennis tournament of note in the Valley of the Sun was the Virginia Slims of Arizona. This is the tournament’s brief history, in Phoenix and Scottsdale:

The Arizona tournament I never knew about until I researched this story was the Phoenix Open Amateur Tour event, which became a professional event at the dawn of the Open Era in 1968. As you can see, Tony Trabert won the first Phoenix Open back in 1953:

This is not a complete and exhaustive history of important tennis events staged in Arizona, but even a partial telling of Arizona tennis history can’t be ventured without mentioning the Davis Cup battles in Tucson, Arizona, from the 1970s.

The 1976 and 1977 Davis Cups involved ties held at the Tucson Racquet Club Ranch. The United States had a fierce rivalry with Mexico for a time in the 1970s, with Mexican star Raul Ramirez making his side a formidable one. The United States handled Mexico, 4-1, in the 1977 Davis Cup (with this North America zonal semifinal being played in December of 1976). Arthur Ashe, Roscoe Tanner, and the elite Stan Smith-Bob Lutz doubles team carried the Americans to victory. Ramirez won Mexico’s sole point.

The New York Times reported on the tie.

This is what the Tucson Daily Citizen looked like on December 20, 1976:

The state of Arizona used to play in the big leagues in the world of tennis. The Arizona Tennis Classic doesn’t represent a complete restoration of everything this state once possessed in the tennis world… but there is something entirely appropriate about Arizona having a noteworthy tennis event once again, even if it exists on a comparatively smaller scale.

The history of this state — like the weather in this state from November through March — deserves a tennis tournament which attracts quality players. Now the Grand Canyon State has reclaimed a small but real measure of its history with the Arizona Tennis Classic.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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