Palmetto Pro Open helps bring athletes, money to Sumter


The road to the Majors doesn't always go through Sumter. For some it does. From June 3 to June 9, Palmetto Tennis Center held its 16th Palmetto Pro Open women's tournament, bringing together 60 players from near and far for an action-packed week. With $60,000 in prize money, the ITF Women's World Tennis Tour and USTA Pro Circuit event is categorized as a W75 tournament.

Qualifying took place before a singles bracket of 32 was narrowed down and the doubles tournament also began. Spaniard Alicia Herrero Linana and Argentinian Melany Solange Krywoj won the doubles championship over Americans Sophie Chang and Dalayna Hewitt, while Canada's Carson Branstine rounded out the competition with the singles tournament, beating out Chang for the title.

"I think every year the tournament gets stronger. It gets better. The players that we're drawing here every year seem to be a little bit more accomplished," said Brian Hodge, tournament director. "I think a great example is the finals. It was a slug fest, and they both look like they have promising careers ahead of them, which is their goal - to hopefully break the top 100 and get into the majors."

While visiting players, coaches, officials and others help stimulate Sumter's local economy for the time being, Hodge thinks the tournament's largest impact on the city is simply its prestige, helping put Sumter's name on the map more and more each year and offering a stepping stone to athletes hoping to make a living through tennis.

"This is just a half a step from the next level, which is where you see them playing on TV. And every year, at least a handful of these players we will see in the larger events that are televised," he said.

And in some cases, athletes who play in the Palmetto Pro Open go on to be world-class players with Major championship wins or high WTA rankings, as is the case with Naomi Osaka, four-time Major champion with a previous No. 1 world ranking, or Jessica Pegula, who's currently ranked fifth in the world, among many others.

Originating in 2008 as a 10K event and as currently one of only four USTA Pro Circuit women's events held each year in South Carolina, the tournament is evolving, hoping to bring in better competition and larger crowds each year.

"I think that every year we try to add to the tournament to make it even more elite," Hodge said, mentioning utilizing more of the city's marketing resources to promote this year's event and for next year, considering putting more early round matches in the evenings after work hours to make them more accessible for spectators leading up to the final matches during the weekend.

While this year's tournament is done and dusted, the hype for next year begins, as the tennis center will be working to make next year the biggest and best yet, and the players could be making TV appearances before then. We'll have to wait and see.