While tennis at the top level or even the second and the third rung, i.e. Challengers and Futures events, is well-followed around the world, it’s worth having a look at how do players who are just starting out and looking to compete go about their business.

One of the most famous competitions at that level is the Orange Bowl Tennis. Get all information you would like to know about the Orange Bowl Tennis below.

What is the Orange Bowl Tennis Championships?

Orange Bowl Tennis is one of the five junior tennis tournaments, rated ‘A’ by the ITF and often called the breeding ground for future champions.

It is an outdoor event played on the red clay and has under 18s, 16s, 14s & 12s sections in both the boys and the girl’s categories. The event is held annually in Florida having been first played in 1947. Due to the increasing number of participants at the event, the under 14s and 12s categories had to be moved. From 1962 onwards it was shifted to the Coral Gables site.

For the first 51 years, the tournament took place at the Flamingo Tennis Centre. From 1999 to 2010, it was held at the Crandon Park facilities. Since 2011 onwards the event has been played at Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Florida.

When is the Orange Bowl Tennis Played?

The 2019 edition of the competition was played in the second and third week of December. More information is awaited on when will the Orange Bowl Tennis 2020 be played.

History & Evolution of the Event

Originally started by Eddie Herr, who wanted to bring a tournament to the south coast as his daughter, Suzanne Herr was a junior level player. But slowly the tournament started gaining recognition across the board and soon became one of the most prestigious events on the calendar.

The name itself was adopted on the lines of a popular college football tournament that is played in Miami. The Orange Bowl Football is a popular tournament played annually since 1935.

Orange also happens to be the state fruit of Florida and has a high significance when it comes to the state’s economy. Almost 74 per cent of the oranges produced in the United States comes from the state of Florida.

Back in 1983, a professional stadium was built in the Flamingo Park site for the event. It seated almost 9000 spectators at the time, regularly filling up for even a juniors category event. But with time the facilities were not enough to accommodate the growing number of participants and spectators each year. With the burden on the facilities increasing the tournament moved to Crandon Park in 1998.

Currently, it is one of the best managed and administered events in its category around the tour. At its previous site, a 5.5 million USD revamp project is underway to restore & upgrade its facilities. It includes a new 5000 square feet tennis building with 17 hydro-courts in it.

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The Orange Bowl tournament has always been at the forefront of shaping tennis in the USA. It is not only a prestigious tournament at the junior level but also has been a guiding light for the sport in general. The tournament was played on the hard courts from 1998 to 2011 before moving back to being a clay court event because the USTA wanted younger players to learn to play on the red soil.

Then executive director at the event academy, John Evert had said:

“Twelve months out of the year, our kids need to play on clay more often and not just at the Orange Bowl. It’s got to start at the grassroots in the 12s and 14s.”

“You learn how to play the game better on the clay, and you learn how to move better. It’s easier on the body and eliminates a lot of injuries.”

In fact, this was a very big debate at the time where US tennis was in a slump and was struggling to produce top-ranked players after Sampras and Andre Agassi.

The reasons given at the time was that the American kids were playing too much hard court tennis and thus only relied on pace and power in their game. Whereas most of the European and South American kids learnt their tennis on the “slower” red soil.

This allows them to develop their game further and teaches to build longer rallies. A classic example of the same was given as John Isner. He has one of the best serves on the tour but has not been reach the very top.

Illustrious Careers of Orange Bowl Alumni

The tournament itself is now considered to be a passage for future tennis world champions. Brazilian Marie Bueno was the first player to win the prestigious event and also win a Grand Slam. She won the 1957 Orange Bowl before winning the Wimbledon and the US Open two years later. She ended up winning seven Grand Slams in her career.

On the other hand, Tony Roche from Australia was the first man to win the Orange Bowl (1962) and go on to be a Grand Slam champion when he won the French Open in 1966. Since then the tournament has seen several great players of the game come to the event.

Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Gabriela Sabatini and Jim Courier are just some names from the past centuries to have graced the event. Even Roger Federer featured in the tournament and won the Orange Bowl back in 1998. At the time few would have envisaged the heights that the 17-year-old Swiss would go on to accomplish.

Apart from this, Andy Roddick and Caroline Wozniacki are the other famous Orange Bowl winners to have won a Grand Slam. Some of the names who won the tournament but didn’t/hasn’t won a Slam yet are Anna Kournikova, Robin Soderling, Marcos Baghdatis and Dominic Thiem.

Passing the Baton of Success to Next Superstars

The tournament continues to be represented by players who are achieving big things on the professional tour. Its 2013 boy’s under 18 champion Frances Tiafoe was the quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in 2019.

In fact, two of the more recent Grand Slam winners on the WTA tour are both Orange Bowl under 18 champions in Sofia Kenin (2014) and Bianca Andrescu (2015).

Cori “Coco” Gauff, the latest sensation of WTA tennis was the 2018 Orange Bowl winner. She also won the under 12s tournament back in 2016. Gauff has already won two titles on the WTA tour. She has also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and the Wimbledon in her short senior career.

She has big shoes to fill when it comes to joining the Alumni of past champions. Steffi Graf (1981), Monica Seles (1985) and Jennifer Capriati (1986) are three former under 12s champions who went on to win 34 Grand Slam titles between them.

The tournament itself is not only limited to the players participating at such a big event.

But it also offers the players, their coaches and their parents an opportunity to learn and improve their game in more ways than one. A host of national & international coaches, scouts, sports nutritionists and sponsors visit the tournament each year. This, in turn, helps the players choose the correct pathways in their careers from an early age.