POSTED: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 9:00pm
UPDATED: Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 9:06am
BATON ROUGE, LA — Nine Baton Rouge-area wheelchair tennis players will make history this month as they compete in the 24th annual Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, March 20-24, at the Paula G. Manship YMCA Lamar Tennis Center.
“We’ve never had this many local players participate in the CajunClassic, and we are thrilled that Baton Rouge is so well represented inthis world-class tournament,” said tournament director Jennifer Edmonson of Baton Rouge.
The nine Baton Rouge amateur players are Shane Theriot, Rich Swanson, Glenn Singletary, Alex Saporito, Karin Johnson, Ryan Guillory, Travis Carter, Kerry Ellis, and Shoeb Khan.
The 2013 Cajun Classic also will feature top International Tennis Federation stars, including
• Four of the top 10 women: ITF World #1 and defending Women’s Open champion Aniek VanKoot, #5 Marjolein Buis, and #7 Sharon Walraven, all of the Netherlands; and #10 Kgothatso Montjane of South Africa
• Four of the top 10 men: ITF World #2 and defending Men’s Open champion Stephane Houdet of France, #4 Ronald Vink of the
Netherlands, #5 Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina, and #10 Nicolas Piefer, also of France.
• Four of the top 10 quadriplegics: ITF World #1 David Wagner and #4 Nick Taylor, both of the United States, #6 Jamie Burdekin
of Great Britain, and #7 Lucas Sithole of South Africa.
In all, the Cajun Classic, presented by the Greater Baton Rouge Community Tennis Association (GBRCTA), will attract 107 professional and amateur players from 15 countries, including the U.S.
Admission to the tournament is free for all days and all matches, including the finals. Tournament play begins at 8 a.m. and continues until about 6 p.m. each day.
This year’s Cajun Classic also marks the first time in at least 15 years that novice amateur players will compete within a professional tournament. Five Louisiana players will participate in the “novice division,” which allows grassroots amateurs the opportunity to play in a world-class tournament setting.
Edmonson said the novice competition is designed to help grow the sport by showing persons in wheelchairs that they can play tennis, enjoy the sport recreationally and even compete in major tournaments.
Jerry Stovall, executive director of the Baton Rouge Area Sports Foundation, which has been a longtime supporter of the Cajun Classic, said BRASF will sponsor the nine Baton Rouge players’ entry fees.
“This is a very significant and unique opportunity for Baton Rouge athletes, especially novice amateurs, to be invited to participate fully in a world-class professional tennis tournament,” said Stovall. “In addition, the Cajun Classic has led to the establishment of year-round wheelchair tennis instruction right here in Baton Rouge. That’s a perfect blend of a world-class tournament and a year-round benefit for the people of the Baton Rouge area.”
The Cajun Classic is sanctioned by both the ITF and the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The tournament is part of ITF’s NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour where players compete for more than $1 million in prize money in tournaments throughout the world. The rules of wheelchair tennis are the same as regular tennis, except the ball is allowed to bounce twice.
“Over the years, the Cajun Classic has grown into one of the world’s most popular tour stops, and we are very excited to welcome this year’s players,” said Edmonson. “The serves are fast, the game is strategic, the movement is unbelievable, and the shots are often spectacular. You really have to see it to believe it.”
Edmonson said the Cajun Classic is made possible by a host of donors and sponsors, including the presenting sponsor, GBRCTA, and premier sponsors: the United States Tennis Association, Baton Rouge Wheelchair Tennis Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Baton Rouge Rehab Hospital, Sunrise Medical, Superior Vans and Mobility, and ATG Rehab.
GBRCTA President Rusty Jabour said Baton Rouge league players helped sponsor the Cajun Classic through GBRCTA’s City Championship league. He said part of their league fees were dedicated to the tournament’s sponsorship as the fall league was promoted to “Play for a Purpose,” in support of the Cajun Classic.
“The response from our players was outstanding, as everyone embraced the importance of supporting wheelchair tennis. Also, part of the league’s revenues help fund year-round wheelchair tennis instruction by local professional Carlos Roldan, who holds clinics every Saturday in Baton Rouge,” said Jabour.
Dan James, national manager of Wheelchair Tennis, USTA, will return to Baton Rouge again this year for the tournament. “This is one of the most popular tournaments on the circuit, and Baton Rouge is one of the nation’s most dynamic areas in terms of year-round wheelchair tennis opportunities and instruction. We all enjoy coming to Baton Rouge for the competition, hospitality and the great food,” said James.
The Cajun Classic is produced by the Baton Rouge Wheelchair Tennis Association, a non-profit, volunteer board that raises funds to pay for the required ITF-badged referee and umpire fees, meals, drinks,
transportation, accommodations at the host hotel, player party, programs and wheelchair repair station.
Financial support and donations are still being accepted to pay for additional costs associated with the larger tournament this year. Persons or businesses interested in helping may contact Jennifer Edmonson through the Cajun Classic website: www.cajunclassictennis.com  or by calling 225-939-4086.