ASHLAND — Tennis players from all over the West Coast will swarm Ashland courts this weekend for the 32nd annual Big Al's Tennis Tournament.

ASHLAND — Tennis players from all over the West Coast will swarm Ashland courts this weekend for the 32nd annual Big Al's Tennis Tournament.

The tournament, which begins today and runs through Sunday, features nearly 200 athletes competing in 21 different divisions at Hunter Park.

The numerous divisions allow everyone to compete at their own skill or age level, or both, as individuals are allowed to enter two events.

Ed Laskos, president of Supporters of Tennis for Ashland Youth (STAY), has been involved with Big Al's tournament for 15 years and said the large number of athletes from outside the area is great for Ashland tennis players and the city as a whole.

"Well over half our entries come from outside the Rogue Valley," Laskos said. "It brings in a lot of business and exposure to the community. Plus, we as locals get outside competition."

Laskos said the level of competition should be high. Many of the players participating are experienced and some of them are highly ranked former college players.

Tournament Operations Director Steve Sacks said the event boasts a friendly, laid-back atmosphere ... until the opening serve.

"It's very competitive," Sacks said. "From the open division right down to beginners, I think everybody is out there trying to win the tournament."

With 21 events in all, Sacks believes there is something for everyone.

"It starts from 3.0 to 3.5 to 4.0 to 4.5, each division getting progressively more skilled," he said. "There's a 40s division and a 55 (and up) division, as well as all the men's and women's singles and doubles and also there are three mixed-doubles divisions. People can play two events, so they could possibly be playing four matches a day for three days. Hopefully it won't be too hot."

Although stiff competition from outsiders will be abundant, Ashland is supplying its fair share of threats to win.

Ashland residents landed top seeds in eight of the 21 divisions this year. Recently finishing his time playing for Lewis-Clark State, Ashland native Ari Zaslow and his teammate Leo Young nabbed the No. 1 seed in the men's open doubles tournament.

Other locals lined with the top seed in their respective divisions are John Rushing (men's 4.5 singles), Dan Graham (men's 4.0 singles), Dana Yearsley (women's 4.0 singles), and the team of Katy Bazylewicz and Kelly Sacks (women's 4.0 doubles).

At the lower levels, Ashland's Dave Maguies and Joel Heller are the favorites in the men's 3.5 doubles, while Victoria Hilden is the top seed in the women's 3.0 singles, and the team of Margaret Cochrane and Carolyn Kennedy head up the women's 3.0 doubles field.

Zaslow and Jonathan Weighter are the lone hopes for an Ashland resident to snatch the title in the men's open singles event. Seven-time champion Todd Stanley (Sacramento, Calif.) and Yuba College tennis coach and three-time Big Al's winner Joshua Prager (Yuba City, Calif.) are the top two seeds, respectively, in the 10-man field.

This year's tournament lacks a women's open event because of a lack of participants, Steve Sacks said.

"Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not," Sacks said. "There are just very few female players in this area, hardly any. It's just a year-by-year thing. There were only two entrants this year."

The tournament serves a higher purpose beyond having a good time on the courts. STAY, the support group for Ashland's young tennis players, raises money for local tennis programs through the tournament, and organization President Ed Laskos said the money allows tennis to continue to thrive in Ashland's younger ranks.

STAY "is a year-round organization," Laskos said. "Most of the funds that we raise to give to the youth of Ashland, through lessons and equipment and grants to the girl's high school team, the boy's Ashland High School team and the (Southern Oregon University) girl's team ... is through this tournament."

Sacks hopes the community will get involved and enjoy a fun weekend of tennis.

"I think it's a really good event, and we hope people come out," Sacks said. "For the first three days of the tournament, there will be tennis at every court in Ashland. So stop by, say hello, take a look what's going on."

Tournament results will be posted online daily. This information along with each event's draws can be found at www.pnw.usta.com.