Tennis championships back in town

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— The prestigious United States Tennis Association's Intermountain Senior Sectional Tennis Championships are returning to Steamboat Springs for a seventh time.

The tournament, open to anyone aged 30 or older, begins Thursday around 3 p.m. at the Tennis Center and will be played exclusively on the clay courts through Sunday.

Local tennis pro Jim Swiggart said 160 people from a six-state area including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico are scheduled to play with more than just victories on the line.

The winner of each respective age division will receive the USTA's No. 1 ranking for the Intermountain region, which will assist them in achieving a higher seeding in national tournaments.

Swiggart said this tournament should bring between 250-350 people into town during the weekend, and while Steamboat may seem an unlikely destination for many of the top players in the West, there are several reasons why the Tennis Center continues to play host to the Intermountain Senior Sectional.

"Steamboat is a wonderful tennis destination four tournament players," Swiggart said. "The Tennis Center is unique in that it's a clay court facility, and we've established a reputation for running good events."

Clay is the surface of choice for the senior division because players have the ability to slide around on the court so it's more giving on the joints. In addition to the six outdoor hard courts, the Tennis Center has six outdoor clay courts and four indoor clay courts.

"We are North America's finest indoor/outdoor, clay court/hard court facility," Swiggart said.

The age divisions begin at 30 and ascend in five-year increments.

Thirty-two Steamboat men and women are slated to play in the four-day tournament and Swiggart said the local tennis players often fare well overall. Paul Hughes and Bob Mullen were finalists last year in the 55 doubles division.

"People from here have the advantage because they are used to playing at altitude and on our clay courts," he said.

For the first time in the event's history, the hard courts will be open to the public, weather permitting, but Swiggart said the public will also be allowed and encouraged to watch the tournament free of charge.

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