The Ojai Tennis Tournament: 120 years of tennis tradition


Frances English

Clement Chidekh and Nedim Suko, players for the University of Washington, high five, acknowledging each other’s hard work for the previous point.

Frances English, Writer

Exciting competition, hard work and team spirit are all things that come to mind when thinking about the Ojai Tennis Tournament. Debuting way back in 1897, the tournament has brought in local and global participants who show their talent to the community and make way for their future stardom in the sport. The Ojai has hosted players such as Billie Jean King, Pete Sampras, Tracy Austin, Mike and Bob Bryan and more professional athletes to come. 

The tournament features 27 divisions for players to compete in. These consist of the Pac-12 (featuring many college rivalries), Juniors, Men’s and Women’s Open, Division III and Independent Colleges. This offers opportunities for people of all ages to join and compete. 

Although the main matches take place on the Libbey Park tennis courts, many locations across Ventura County cater to the tournament, such as high schools, The Ojai Valley Tennis Club and more. Many families across Ventura County and Ojai host the competitors, allowing them to stay in their houses throughout their run in the tournament. 

Being held 120 times, the tournament has picked up many traditions held dear to participants and observers who come back year after year. One of these beloved traditions is the tea tent. First starting in 1904, the tea tent allows guests to grab a cup of tea to their liking served in china cups with a side of cookies and relax on the cloth-covered tables and chairs. Located just behind the tennis courts, it is a break from the action appreciated by all who visit. Another complimentary refreshment is the fresh-squeezed orange juice served in Gatorade cups. Pixie tangerines are handed out with the juice to go along with the Ojai orange theme. This tradition has been one of the most memorable to fans. 

Players not only get a fun and once-in-a-lifetime experience, but for juniors and growing athletes, they are awarded the chance to showcase their skills to coaches and onlookers who could potentially help their careers. Willie Quest, a former tennis prodigy, was able to compete and win the tournament. Winning the Boys 14 singles in 1985 and earning runner up in the Boys’ Interscholastic singles division in 1988, he made a name for himself, furthering his tennis career. 

Quest describes, “[playing in the tournament] exposed you to a larger tennis community.” He recalls seeing top college players and future pros that inspired him and allowed him to scout for colleges himself. Quest later went on to play for Duke University and today he is a public defender in Ventura.

The tournament in 2022 was significant for the competitors, the community, and the many people who volunteer and dedicate themselves to making sure that everything runs smoothly. Craig Fugle, the junior tournament director, emphasizes the number of people it takes to run the tournament, catering to 190 high school kids. Hundreds of people volunteer to make the event happen. 

With the tournament having to cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Fugle expresses, “we are just glad it’s back.”  A familiar feeling between players and spectators alike, he illustrates, “everybody is so excited to just see some tennis.”

The four-day-long event being held on April 20-24 was a success, allowing players of all ages to etch their names in The Ojai Tennis Tournament history. The Pac-12 division was won by the University of Southern California Men’s team and the Stanford Women’s team. Many champions stood cheerfully holding their earned trophy and medal, while the runners-up were already envisioning their win in next year’s tournament. 

The Ojai Tennis Tournament has allowed for a union in the tennis community, connecting lovers of the sport through hundred-year traditions and excitement. While the tennis courts are clearing out, tennis bags are thrown in the back of trunks and tennis balls are tossed into nameless baskets, players await their time to return and grace the Ojai community with tennis spirit once again. 

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