After 112 years, much remains the same with the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament.
Surrounded by rugged mountains and nestled among picturesque orange groves, the tiny southern California community of Ojai throws open its doors annually for this community-wide event.
Innkeepers, restaurateurs, gallery owners and shopkeepers welcome the influx of tennis fans and tourists for the largest amateur tennis tournament in the United States, which happens the last full weekend in April.
"Everybody associated with this tournament is a volunteer; we own no tennis courts and have no paid employees," said public relations chair Sam Eaton. "However, there is a fascination with the tournament, and many junior players pass up other events which offer points to play at Ojai."
The non-profit Ojai Valley Tennis Club produces The Ojai by the concerted efforts of over 600 volunteers. The 150 required tennis courts are made available by local schools, clubs and private residents.
Volunteers prepare the courts at the various venues, manage tournament desks and media headquarters, maintain score keeping, and serve complimentary fresh orange juice to players and spectators--a tradition that has continued since the early 1930s.
Over the years, the Ojai has evolved from a small regional tournament into the premier showcase event for the next generation of tennis greats.
"The first year of my involvement was 1962, as a ball boy," said Eaton. "I was able to work matches featuring Billie Jean King (then Moffett) and Arthur Ashe. Many others have been involved longer than I have, and we all do it for the same reason: It's a wonderful event."
Prize money for 2012 totals an all-time high of $20,000, which will be awarded in the men's and women's Open divisions in singles and doubles. Once an amateur-only tournament, The Ojai began offering prize money in the Open division in 2003 through the generous gift of Michael Taggart.
Junior events in The Ojai are now considered a "Sectional Open" tournament by the Tennis Recruiting Network (TRN). Due to their historical strength, the Ojai Junior events will now count for TRN ranking purposes, and players winning a match in these events will be considered as "national players" by TRN.
The new Pac-12 Men's Team Tournament will be played at nearby Libbey Park, utilizing traditional dual match format, commencing on Wednesday April 25th, with the team championship match to be played Saturday afternoon April 28th. Winner of team championship will receive PAC-12 Conference's automatic qualifier berth in NCAA national team championships.
This year will be the second time for the unsanctioned, "3rd, 4th and 5th Grade Invitational" 10-and-under tournament as part of The Ojai, which culminates in the elementary school Quick Start program under the auspices of the Ojai Recreation Department and conducted by mostly Tennis Club volunteers.