Qualifying matches at the Florence Open women’s professional tennis tournament ended Tuesday morning with eight singles players and two doubles teams moving into the main draws. Main draw singles and doubles play began early this afternoon and extended throughout the day. With 20 matches scheduled, there was constant activity and spectators were able to enjoy the cool fall weather andsome highly competitive tennis. Several seeded singles players were in action, including #2 seed Michelle Larcher de Brito of Lisbon,Portugal, an exceptionally talented player who took out Maria Sharapova at this year’s Wimbledon. In Tuesday’s match, Larcher de Brito overpowered young American Lauren Herring, who plays college ball for the University of Georgia, posting a 6-2, 6-0 win. Sixth seed Catalina Castano of Colombia had a tougher time with Tereza Martincova of Czechoslovakia, but came through with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. In doubles, #2 seeds Julia Cohen of the US and Maria Irogoyen of Argentina were upset by the all American team of Josie Kuhlman and Kaitlyn McCarthy. In a singles match of special interest to many area residents, unseeded Sanaz Marand, who has trained at the Floyd Center, picked up a 7-5, 6-2 first round victory over Catalina Pella of Argentina. Their two and a half hour match was a real test of endurance with an impressive number of grueling 20 and 25 ball rallies. In the featured singles match Tuesday evening #3 seed Madison Brengle from Dover, DE, took the court against Veronica Cepede Royg from Paraguay. Brengle, who has won two Pro Circuit tournaments this year and was a finalist in a third, is a likely contender for the championship here in Florence. However, after holding off all day, rain began with Cepede Royg up 1-0 and Brengle serving at 30-40. With the courts wet the match was postponed until tomorrow. One highlight of the day’s activities was the formal tournament opening conducted just prior to the evening’s feature match. The crowd gathered around Center Court as the South Florence High School Choraliers sang the National Anthem and the tournament ball kids presented the American flag. Tournament Director Darlene Buchanan introduced Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela, who welcomed the attendees and thanked them for supporting tennis at the Floyd Center. He also recognized Dr. Eddie Floyd, for whom the Center is named, and thanked him for his contributions to the growth of tennis in Florence. Before the opening ceremony players, sponsors and area VIPs participated in a “Taste of Florence” reception under a tent set up on the lawn in front of the Tennis Center. The event gave area residents an opportunity to meet and mingle with the pros. Local restaurants provided excellent fare and a good time was had by all. Major sponsors for this year’s event include the City of Florence, the USTA Pro Circuit, Palmetto Synthetics, Pepsi Cola, the Florence Tennis Association, NUCOR, Cormell, Streett, and Patterson, ACS Technologies, and King Cadillac. Altogether, over 30 area businesses and individuals and a host of community volunteers have contributed to the Florence Open and to bringing high quality professional tennis to the Pee Dee region. Tomorrow’s schedule includes 11 singles and 8 doubles matches. The first matches will go on court at 10 am and action will continue all day. One marque match, which could begin as 12:30 pm, pits last year’s Florence Open Champion and #1 seed Michelle Mariana Duque-Marinofrom Colombia against rising American star Asia Muhammad from San Diego, California. Duque-Marino, currently ranked 101 in the world in singles, has one WTA singles title and 15 Pro Circuit singles titles, including one from last week’s Rock Hill Rocks Tournament in upstate South Carolina. Muhammad, who is currently ranked 366in the world in singles and 108 in doubles, won her second professional singles title earlier this year at the Pro Circuit tournament in Raleigh, NC.
USTA launched its Pro Circuit 34 years ago to provide players with the opportunity to gain professional ranking points, and it has since grown to become the largest developmental tennis circuit in the world, offering nearly $3 million in prize money. Last year, more than 1,000 men and women from more than 70 countries competed in cities nationwide. Mardy Fish, Maria Sharapova, John Isner, Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Querrey, Li Na and Andy Murray are among today’s top stars who began their careers on the USTA Pro Circuit. This year there are 44 women’s pro circuit events. Because of our great weather and excellent facilities, five of them are in South Carolina. The Florence Open, with its $25,000 purse, is one of the largest of these and the last tour event of the year. We can expect to see some of the young women who play here in the tennis Grand Slams in the next few years.