Oracle Challenger Series in Newport Beach will offer tennis players more opportunities

Former world No.4 player Kei Nishikori of Japan will be appearing later this month in the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series at the Newport Beach Tennis Club.
Former world No.4 player Kei Nishikori of Japan will be appearing later this month in the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series at the Newport Beach Tennis Club.
(Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images)

Former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, former world No. 4 player Kei Nishikori and American teen up-and-comer Frances Tiafoe will be among the big names battling it out on the courts Jan. 20-28 in the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series at Newport Beach Tennis Club.

Orange County tennis fans are invited to come watch; no ticket necessary. The series is free to the public.

Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison’s decision to debut the series at the Newport Beach venue is a big win for the club, whose members include retired World No. 1 (and Madison Keys coach) Lindsay Davenport and Grand Slam legend Roy Emerson.

“I’m extremely happy it’s here,” said club owner Steve Joyce. “But I’m more proud that Oracle is making an effort to push American tennis. I think it’s awesome.”

Oracle created the series “to offer American tennis players more opportunities for men and women at both the collegiate and professional level,” said tournament director Tom Fey.

Two male and two female winners of the series will each get a wildcard to the BNP Paribas Open at Ellison’s Indian Wells Tennis Garden in March. Winners will also share a $300,000 purse.

Eleven American men and 11 American women entered to compete in the tournament. They include 19-year-old Frances Tiafoe of Florida, who won over fans when he pushed Roger Federer to a fifth set at the U.S. Open this past summer, and Taylor Fritz of Palos Verdes, who is ranked 92.

Mackenzie McDonald of Los Angeles, a former NCAA singles and doubles champion at UCLA, and Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina also entered in the men’s field.

“You’re going to see a lot of up and comers,” Joyce said.

Nishikori will be the highest ranked player on the courts (at No. 24). It will be the first time he’ll compete since he injured his wrist playing Gael Monfils in Montreal last summer.

The women’s field includes former two-time NCAA singles champion Nicole Gibbs of Los Angeles and former USTA Girls’ 18s singles champions Sachia Vickery and Sofia Kenin.

International players in the draw include former US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium, Victor Estrella Burgos of Dominican Republic, Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, Canadian Peter Polansky and Darian King of Barbados.

Joyce said the club is expecting at least 800 spectators daily for the event.

“I have 600 members who are excited about this,” he said.

Matches will begin in the morning around 10 a.m. and end by 5 p.m. daily. The big names will play on the club’s sunken center court but a total of 12 courts will be in use.

Staff is working on a special menu for the club restaurant and shuttle service for off-site parking.

“Larry Ellison has enough money to buy a professional sports team, and he’s chosen, thank goodness, to champion American tennis,” Joyce said.

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Lori Basheda is a contributor to Times Community News.