Defending champion George Jecminek returns to the Rogue Valley this weekend and will face a strong overall men's tennis field when play begins today in the Lithia Toyota Open Championships at the Rogue Valley Swim and Tennis Club.
Jecminek, of Canada, stormed through this same event a year ago — when it was called the Rogue Valley Open Championships — and expects to be a key contender again in the tournament's 17th year.
WHAT: Men's open tennis tournament in its 17th year. Formerly known as the Rogue Valley Open Championships.
The Czech Republic native won the singles and doubles crown last year — teaming with singles runner-up Oren Motevassel in the latter — and is a touring tennis player ranked 854th currently by the International Tennis Foundation.
The 24-player open event expects to be far from a walkover for Jecminek, however, with No. 2 seed Kyle McMorrow and No. 3 seed Nate Schnugg joining a host of talented men's tennis players aiming to challenge for the title.
Jon Endrikat, an ex-North Medford High and UC Irvine standout, was the lone player to push Jecminek to three sets a year ago and even he couldn't crack into the top six seeds this time around.
"This year we have more high-level players than we've ever had, by far," said Kayleen Endrikat, activities director at RVSTC. "We had such a hard time seeding the tournament with all the high-level players we have this year."
Admission is free to the tennis tournament, with matches beginning at noon today and starting as late as 6:30 p.m. Saturday's first match begins at 10 a.m. and last match is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., with Sunday's championship finals slated to begin with singles at 11:30 a.m. The doubles final will follow.
Overall, the purse for this year's tournament is $5,000, with $1,500 going to the singles champion and $400 apiece for the doubles champions. All proceeds generated by tournament sponsorships this year will go to the Medford Parks and Recreation Foundation to help fund its summer programs and scholarships.
"One really cool thing is that Lithia Toyota made a fairly large contribution to us to use for prize money and then we also generated funds through our other sponsors to help with that," said Kayleen Endrikat. "Then we just found out (Thursday) that the Toyota company matched Lithia's donation to the Parks and Recreation Foundation so in total we will be giving just over $10,000 to use for sports scholarships."
McMorrow wrapped up this past season at the University of Washington ranked 16th in singles by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. The senior became the eighth All-American in program history after falling in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Tournament, capping his final year with a 25-7 record and his career at 100-35 in singles. The ITA Northwest Region Senior of the Year and All-Pac-12 first-teamer became just the fifth Husky to reach 100 wins for his career.
Medford native Schnugg played on the ATP World Tour after a decorated career at the University of Georgia and recently moved to San Francisco. Schnugg, who missed this stop on the Pacific Northwest circuit last year, was a four-time all-Southeastern Conference selection and helped the Bulldogs to a NCAA championship during his tenure. As a junior doubles tennis player in 2006, he won titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and was second at the Australian Open.
In doubles, Jecminek is teamed with McMorrow to provide for a loaded top-seeded tandem. Hoping to challenge them will be the No. 2 seeds Endrikat and Curt Wheeler of Salem, who lost in last year's semifinals, and the No. 3-seeded duo of Schnugg and former USC player Jason McNaughton.
The remaining seeded players in singles include Michel Hukwo (No. 4), Andy Gerst (No. 5) and Reid Delaubenfels. Gerst teamed with Trevor Dobson in doubles last year and finished second, with Dobson also returning to this year's field.
Other singles player with local ties scheduled to compete include Ashland's Leo Young and Wil Cochrane and Medford's Matthew Pronesti and Kirk Evans.
The tournament hit a hiatus in 2010 after the loss of a key sponsor but has steadily regained momentum in the past two years.
To follow results from the Lithia Toyota Open Championships, a link to the tournament is provided at rvstc.com