ATP Tour players enjoy indoor tennis tourney

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Aleksandar Kovacevic didn’t mind beating the heat.

Although ATP Tour officials would prefer an outdoor tennis tournament during this time of the year, the Rajeev Ram Foundation’s Indy Challenger was held at Pearson Automotive Tennis Club in Zionsville because a suitable outdoor venue wasn’t found for the ATP Challenger tournament.

“It was definitely the best week of my pro career,” said Kovacevic, a former University of Illinois player who delivered 25 aces in the final.

Yibing Wu saved six championship points to rally to beat Kovacevic 6-7 (12-10), 7-6 (15-13), 6-3 July 24 in the nearly 3-hour final. Wu, who earned $7,200 for the title, moved to No. 174 in the ATP rankings and is China’s highest-ranked player. Kovacevic, who earned $4,240, beat 2022 NCAA singles champion Ben Shelton in the semifinals. Shelton plays for his father, Bryan Shelton, at the University of Florida. Ben’s mother is Lisa Witsken, the sister of Todd Witsken, an ATP pro from Carmel who died of brain cancer in 1998. Todd Witsken’s son, Tyler, is a teaching pro at Pearson Tennis Club.

“The players said they like the break and the consistency of not worrying about heat and weather,” said Bob Bryant, a Carmel resident who served as tournament director. “It was probably one of the fastest surfaces they played on this year. I think they enjoyed how competitive it was.”

Bryant, who was tournament director of ATP Tour’s Atlanta tournament for 2 1/2 years, has been involved with the Rajeev Ram Foundation since moving to Indianapolis in 2013 to become the 500 Festival chief executive officer. Ram, ranked No. 2 on the ATP Tour in doubles, is a 2002 Carmel High School graduate.

After hearing Bryant was taking the job, Ram visited Bryant in the tournament office in Atlanta and asked Bryant to help with the foundation if he had time.

“This is 10 years of Raj consistently working with people who care about tennis in Indianapolis and keeping them involved and engaged,” Bryant said. “When the opportunity came up, he asked us all to step up and go the extra mile to get this done. It was a volunteer effort almost across the board with people devoting their time and energy.”

Bryant said significant local donors came together to fund the event.

“It was a great turnout and players seemed to love it all week,” Bryant said. “We had a lot of good comments coming back from ATP people, officials and players themselves. Kudos to Raj and our little mighty group. We didn’t have a lot of time from a marketing standpoint.”

Bryant said there is time to see if the Challenger event might return in 2023. Ram was on-site until the tournament’s final few days when he had to leave to play doubles at the Atlanta Open.

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