TOURNAMENT HOPES TO GROW
Ashley Marshall | July 2, 2018
The tournament directors of a same-gender event in California were delighted when the first USTA-sanctioned gay couples competition launched in 2015.
Now four years later, they’re hoping that one day the event will attract the same kind of attention as the more widely attended husband-wife tournaments held across the country.
“It’s a historic event, as far as the USTA having same-gender couples compete, and I hope we can continue to attract more players,” said Nabil Najjar, a co-director of the Category I USTA National Same Gender Doubles Hard Court Championship with Jim Kloes.
The tournament is held in conjunction with another same-gender doubles tournament run by the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA), of which Najjar served on the board for 15 years. While the numbers have remained steady over the past few years, Najjar believes that with a little more marketing and support, the tournament can really thrive.
“It’s very important for the USTA to endorse and support the same-gender division we have because it’s a new division and a new tournament,” Najjar said.
“The continued support from the USTA will allow us to continue to have this tournament. We want it to grow nationwide, and we’d like to have more tournaments across the country.
“Ten years from now, I would like the same-gender tournament to be comparable to the USTA National Category I husband-wife tournaments. We don’t expect the same numbers, but we’d like to grow. We’re on the right path, and with the help of the USTA, I think 10 years from now we can increase numbers dramatically.”
The tournament received prominent backing in its inaugural year, when tennis legend Billie Jean King highlighted the event and showed her support for the historic competition.
"This is a great and important step forward for tennis," Hall of Famer King said in a statement to the Desert Sun when the tournament was announced in 2015. "Tennis is a sport that's equally fun and beneficial for everyone, so it's nice to know that, going forward, we'll enjoy a greater sense of equality between the lines in adult competition. The makeup of families in our world is changing, and I'm thrilled to see that tennis also is recognizing that change and making it easier for same-gender couples to compete."
Other same-gender couples tournaments were soon added to the clay-court and indoor seasons, in Naples, Fla., and Vancouver, Wash., respectively, but the initial tournament is still the biggest draw.
"We would love to see our event grow in size of each age division, men's and women's, and gain in support from the LGBT community," Kloes said. "I see no reason same-gender tournaments cannot thrive as other divisions of doubles tournament do.
"It would be ideal to run a strictly same-gender doubles tournament for all divisions, but obviously we need to attract more entries to do that so we combine it with our yearly Palm Springs doubles tournament. We are also faced with balancing the joy of playing tournament tennis with your significant family against other families, with very mixed levels of competitors in many cases. LGBTQ tournaments have made significant strides I've seen in our years of tennis organizing. I expect that to continue and love to see support at our matches from friends and family of our players."
The Category I USTA National Same Gender Doubles Hard Court Championship tournament will move from the Desert Tennis Association site in Palm Springs, Calif., to the Mission Hills Country Club several miles east of the former site for 2019.
There will still be four divisions in the tournament: three age-specific doubles tournaments for men's or women's couples with a combined age of 80, 100 and 120, plus an open doubles tournament for same-gender couples of any age. In March, Howard Giles and Dean Nguyen (pictured above, left) won the prestigious gold ball in the men's 100 division, defeating Tom Keep and Mark Schaeffer (pictured above, right, with tournament co-director Kloes in the center).
Najjar, who served on the GLTA board of directors for 15 years, estimates that the GLTA hosts approximately 70 events in the U.S. each year, serving every major city, in addition to more than 40 other events worldwide. The co-director estimates that 95 percent of the participants at the USTA-sanctioned event also play in not-for-profit GLTA tournaments, and he hopes to welcome more newcomers in the coming years.
The 2019 Category I USTA National Same Gender Doubles Hard Court Championship will take place at Mission Hills Country Club on Saturday, March 2, and Sunday, March 3.