Irving Tennis Classic: Paving The Way To Miami
Aljaz Bedene (middle left( and Marcel Granollers (middle right) pose with tournament officials/Photo: Irving Tennis Classic

Marcel Granollers took home the singles title at the Irving Tennis Classic (ITC) on Sunday with a straight sets win over defending champion Aljaz Bedene. Nicolas Monroe and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi were crowned the new ITC doubles champs. That was only part of the story for the ATP Challenger tournament that serves as a gateway from Indian Wells to Miami.

Player Paradise

The results of an ATP tennis tournament are never inconsequential, but one gets the feeling that most of the players who stop over in Irving, Texas for the ITC enjoy the experience as much as the added match play. The tournament is a unique calendar stop for the Challenger Tour in March as a bridge from Indian Wells to Miami. For many players, the ITC gives them the opportunity to get additional match play if they crash out early in Indian Wells or simply as a middle point on the long road from California to Florida for the Miami Open.

Tournament director Zoltan Papp said this year's tournament wasn't just a nice place for the players to catch some extra play, it was one of the most entertaining ITC's in its five year history. "We have had a very deep field and many, many entertaining matches." said Papp. "Lots of three setters, a lot of great match-ups and popcorn matches."

Doubles champ Nicolas Monroe takes time to sign an autograph (Photo: @IrvingClassic)
Doubles champ Nicolas Monroe takes time to sign an autograph (Photo: @IrvingClassic)

Those "popcorn" matches were the highlight for the fans in attendance this past week, as they had a chance to see many bigger names from the ATP World Tour. Almost to a man, the players all had the same response to playing this past week in Irving. It was a paradise for the players.

Tour veteran Mischa Zverev, who trains in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area, said that the quality of players in the ITC field make it almost like an ATP World Tour event, saying,  "I'm always happy to be home and be able to play a tournament. It's a challenger, but it's a very tough event and there are a lot of great players, so I consider it as an ATP event. It's nice to have all the friends around and be home, sleep in your own bed, and hopefully I can do well."

Mischa Zverev on the ITC grounds (Photo: @IrvingClassic)
Mischa Zverev on the ITC grounds (Photo: @IrvingClassic)

Another long-time tour player, Dmitry Tursunov, echoed Zverev's sentiments this week, saying that the ITC is a perfect stop at this time of the year. "You could say it's an ATP tournament. It's very strong for a challenger, but it makes sense because a lot of people come for a very long time to the United States, so they play Indian Wells and Miami and there's nothing in between, so there's not much else to do but to play this event," said the Russian. "It's very good for the event, and also the organization is top notch. I mean, you have a very good facility, you have a really good gym, a really good hotel, so I think it's a very good week for the players. That's why they come here."

German Philipp Petzschner also said it is a great stop for the players and it is even better getting to see his friends for the week, "I just love the tournament, I love the surroundings. The facilities are just great, and they're improving every year. Zoltan, Brent, and Vinnie (tournament co-owners), they're friends of mine by now, I mean the last five years I've been here. We have a lot of fun, and I promised them every year I'd come back, and I'll try to keep that promise as long as possible."

Looking to the Future

With the ITC in the rear-view mirror, officials with the ITC are already turning their attention to 2017. "The past four years I have welcomed the moment of being done and (to) recover from a full week of relentless work around the event. However, I am already in building mode," said tournament director Zoltan Papp. "The layout of our grounds, the vendor area, website, promotional events, etc. Preparation for the 2017 event begins today (Monday)."

Marcel Granollers (Photo: Tessa Kolodny)
Marcel Granollers (Photo: Tessa Kolodny)

Papp said that despite the overall success of the tournament, they are always looking for improvement. "The business side can never be good enough, it is a never ending journey." He continued, saying, "We have generated the most amount of revenue in terms of ticket sales. However, I am looking forward to improving a lot of our logistics, systems, and processes to further enhance the fan, volunteer, and sponsor experiences."

To that point, Papp says he is looking forward to shifting some of their focus from the players to the fans of the ITC. He says that focus will shift to their "FANtastic" experience, along with making sure all the volunteers and ball kids are getting the most they can out of the event.

If the players are any indication of the success of the event and how big a draw it will continue to be in the future, the ITC will be in great shape. 2016 Champion Marcel Granollers conveyed a message felt by many in his post-match speech on Sunday, saying, "It was my first time here, so I feel very good in Irving...I hope to see you all next year, thank you very much."