Nestled in a quaint valley town east of Ventura, Ojai is populated by less than 8000 residents year ‘round. But for one week in May, the town plays host to the oldest tennis tournament west of the Mississippi, attracting thousands of athletes and visitors alike for what is aptly and simply named “The Ojai.”
A career pinnacle of many southern California tennis players and beyond (athletes this year come from British Columbia, Nevada, Hong Kong, and Texas, among others), success at the Ojai is no small feat. The tournament receives more than 100 applications annually from the best players throughout the region, filling just 32 spots in highly competitive Open draws.
This year marks the 117th playing of The Ojai, and despite its lengthy history, the tournament continues to modernize and evolve. Each spring, the community (and all of Ventura County) invest their time and effort to create this amazing event. With more than 400 volunteers and 112 active courts, world class facilities and creative fundraising initiatives, The Ojai sets the stage for competitive junior, adult, and collegiate tournaments.
Perhaps the most anticipated draw of the tournament will be a battle of PAC-12 schools in team competition, the first year for Pac-12 women in team format. With NCAA berths on the line, a strong showing for collegiate players is essential at such a high profile event. Stanford, UCLA, and California are among the top seeds.
“It’s a whole different level of intensity,” according to Jeff Jenkins, one of numerous tournament directors. “This will up the level for them.”
Not to be outdone, “The Ojai” boasts some of the highest ranking players at the Junior level. CIF competition increase to draws of 64 as young players represent their schools. Locals will keep an eye on Scout Mathews, an Ojai native and 5-star recruit according to TennisRecruiting.com. Mathews, described by tournament director Craig Fugle as “a prodigy-type player,” is seeded fourth in Girls 16s.
Bystanders should expect great tennis from juniors, college players, and adults alike. But there’s plenty to look forward to off the court as well. New electronic scoreboards will be in place, with a master scoreboard to be added next year. A PAC-12 banquet and scholarship barbeque (featuring honorary guest Rod Laver) will be headlining attractions. And this year, for the first time, all champions will be crowned at Libbey Park on Sunday, when all division finals are played at the same location.
For the 117th time, the tennis community in Ojai hopes that a future champion will launch a storybook career on their home courts. Household names like Bill Tilden, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, Tracy Austin, and Pete Sampras are among world ranked players who one competed at Ojai.
The question remains, who is the next tennis superstar to pass through the valley? Amazingly, the chances are pretty good that a future US Open champion, Davis Cup captain, or US Olympian is warming up on a back court at Ojai Valley Tennis Club at this very moment…