In May 2008, as a sports writer for The Item newspaper here in Sumter, I was covering the first Palmetto Pro Open – the City of Sumter’s $10,000 USTA women’s circuit event— at the Palmetto Tennis Center. I don’t profess to know a lot about tennis now, but I certainly didn’t five years ago. One match, however, captured everyone’s attention – be it a USTA official on-site or someone watching tennis for the first time.
It lasted four hours and 44-minutes. It went to all three sets, with the final two going into tie-breakers. When the dust settled, a young teenager advanced to her first Women’s Circuit semifinal of her career with a 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(7) victory. Five years later – and still a teenager – that same player is now in her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Yep. Sloane Stephens took her first big step toward stardom as a 14-year-old, right here in Sumter. Now 19, Stephens took down her idol Serena Williams 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to move into her first semifinal of one of tennis’ major tournaments.
Many of tennis’ stars work their way through the circuits and start at the $10,000 level. In a few months, the sixth annual Palmetto Pro Open will return to the Palmetto Tennis Center – one of the premier tennis facilities in the Southeast.
Last year, two 14-year-olds played for the Palmetto Pro Open title with Louisa Chirico defeating Victoria Duvall for her first circuit title. What future stars will be playing? Who knows, but just in case, bring a pen and pad for some autographs!
by Patrick Enzor