Deep, talented field: Elam Classic celebrating milestone with great group
The Elam Classic tennis tournament is celebrating a milestone this weekend with one of its deepest and strongest fields in years.
The 50th annual men’s pro invitational, which boasts a $10,000 purse, begins at 8:30 a.m. on Friday at Canyon View Park and continues through Sunday. The singles final is slated for 9 a.m. on Sunday.
Top seed Cory Ross of Littleton could make history by winning an unprecedented fifth singles title, but he will have to get past some tough competition in Grand Junction’s Luke and Clancy Shields, seeded fifth and second, respectively, No. 3 seed Oren Motevassel of Sunnyvale, Calif., fourth-seeded Phillip Eilers of Salt Lake City and No. 6 seed Richard Johnson of Grand Junction. Clancy Shields defeated Ross in a three-set final last year.
“I hope I can win five,” Ross said. “The goal is to win five and be the only person to do so. That would be very special. There is a lot of work to be done before I can think of winning the tournament.
“With Clancy, Luke, Oren, Richard Johnson, all those guys are certainly capable of winning it, along with a handful of other guys. It’s a strong field and a hot weekend.”
The field is nearly full, with 29 players in the singles draw and 11 teams in the doubles draw. Three players are from foreign countries, Motevassel, Eilers and No. 7 seed Chris Letcher, and are all new to the tournament. Damon Gillette of Wheat Ridge is seeded eighth.
Motevassel is originally from Israel. He played 15 years on the Association of Tennis Professionals tour and was ranked as high as 161st in the world at the height of his professional career 12 years ago. He is a teaching pro at a private club in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Eilers is originally from Germany and recently completed his collegiate career at the University of Utah, where he was the co-Mountain West Conference player of the year.
Letcher is from Melbourne, Australia, and came to the U.S. to play for Arizona State University. He’s now on the Futures Tour. His parents were both on the professional tennis tour.
“I’m happy to see (new players),” tournament director Harold Carrizo said. “It gives people here a chance to see different players. Now, the United States Tennis Association has these tournaments well-organized on the Internet.”
Other local players in the tournament are Mesa State College coach Dan MacDonald, former Mesa State players Nick Provenza and Niko Carrizo and Grand Junction High School’s Ben Scissors.
Ross, who is a teaching pro at the Colorado Athletic Club Inverness, is tied with three other players with four Elam Classic titles. He won it in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The other four-time champions are Jim Landin (1963, ‘65, ‘66, ‘69), Kent Woodard (1971, ‘73, ‘74, ‘84) and Martin Barba (1991, ‘92, ‘94 and ‘96).
Tom Van Fleet started the tournament, called the Bookcliff Country Club Invitational, in 1960 and ran it for three years before moving.
Carter Elliott took over the tournament and was the director until recently. He was able to get Central Distributing to sponsor the tournament and award prize money, luring players who were starting their professional careers.
Harold Elam, founder of Elam Construction, picked up sponsorship of the tournament in 1983.
“The first time I went to it, I never played tennis,” Elam said. “My ex-wife talked me into it. I went over with my Levi’s and cowboy hat on and watched. I happened to be at the tennis shack one evening and heard Central Distributing wasn’t going to sponsor it anymore. I started asking what all went on with it. I think the prize money at the time was $4,000.
“At the time, the oil shale bust was going on. I managed to rake together enough money and keep it going.”
Since then, the number of players in the tournament has increased.
Elam credits the boom in professional tennis in the United States with the rise of players like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
The purse grew to the current $10,000 amount, the highest in the region until recently, with the start of the Safeway Open in the Denver area two years ago.