With the year's second major underway, most of the eyes of the tennis world will be on Paris this week as the sport's stars test themselves on the clay at the French Open.
While Rebsamen Tennis Center isn't Roland Garros, there will be action in Little Rock as the ATP Challenger Tour returns for the first time in two years.
Singles action kicks off this afternoon and the doubles tournament will begin Tuesday as several Americans headline the event, which will run through Sunday. Although 2018 U.S. junior national champion Jenson Brooksby is no longer in the field -- the 20-year-old Californian played his way into the French Open main draw last week -- another former winner of the same event, Jack Sock, will be the Little Rock Open's main attraction.
Sock, who was once ranked as high as No. 8 in the world and has won three Grand Slam doubles titles as well as a gold medal in mixed doubles at the 2016 Olympics, has fallen to No. 246 in the ATP rankings. A combination of injuries and covid-19 have limited Sock to 11 events over the past 18 months -- seven of which have been Challenger events.
Donald Young, winner of the 2007 Little Rock Open, will also be in action looking to build back his world ranking after missing out on each of the last nine Grand Slam events. The 31-year-old lefty, who peaked at No. 48 in 2012, has played eight matches this calendar year -- Young has gone 4-4, most recently losing in the Round of 32 to Ryan Harrison in Tallahassee, Fla., last month.
Harrison, another notable American playing at Rebsamen, makes his debut at the event after dropping more than 400 spots in the world rankings over the last four years. Harrison won the 2017 Memphis Open and then beat Young in the French Open doubles final later that year, but the hard-serving Louisiana native hasn't come close to similar heights since.
The top seed in the singles event will be Taiwan's Josh Jung, and the American tandem of Robert Galloway and Alex Lawson are No. 1 in the doubles bracket.
As in years past, the event will benefit the Baptist Health Foundation, having raised $290,000 already -- the most ever for the Little Rock Open, according to tournament director Chip Stearns.
"Who it benefits has always been the key," Stearns said. "For 30 years, St. Vincent's was the beneficiary and about 10 years ago, the Baptist Health Foundation took it over. Baptist has made it bigger and better. This year, that money is going toward nursing programs, and you have tennis lovers but also the city is really on board, so that's a really good partnership."
Stearns also noted that although the tournament was not held last year due to covid, this is the 40th edition of the event, making it the longest-running pro circuit event in the country aside from the U.S. Open (excluding 2020). He added that 40-50% of ATP Challenger events -- the equivalent of Triple-A tournaments -- aren't being held around the world this year, so he's happy to have tennis back in Little Rock.
Admission will be free for all fans today, but Stearns hopes to have a big crowd come Friday, which will be a banner day with four singles quarterfinals in the afternoon and the doubles semifinals at night.
WHAT Baptist Health Little Rock Open
WHERE Rebsamen Tennis Center, Little Rock
WHEN Today- Sunday, with doubles beginning tomorrow
PLAYERS TO WATCH Former world No. 8 Jack Sock, 2007 Little Rock Open winner Donald Young, Ryan Harrison
TICKETS Free today, $10 Tuesday-Thursday, $20 Friday-Sunday, $50 weekend pass, $75 full tournament pass, 18-and under free all week
DRAWS AND SCHEDULE OF PLAY littlerockopen.com