Francesca Schiavone

Italy's Francesca Schiavone returns the ball to Australia's Samantha Stosur during the women's final match of the French Open at Roland Garros in 2010. Schiavone won 6-4, 7-6(2).

Associated Press — Christophe Ena, file

When the UTSA Pro Circuit came to Waco two years ago for the Waco Showdown, once of Jessica Hinojosa’s best friends played in the tournament. She told the Guadalajara, Mexico, native about her experience at Baylor.

Earlier this year, Hinojosa was named to the 2017 Big 12 All-Freshman team after compiling a 6-0 record in league play at the No. 6 singles position for the Lady Bears.

“Because the tournament is so international, one of her best friends played in the event two years ago and was able to see our facilities and see everything that Baylor has to offer,” Baylor women’s tennis head coach Joey Scrivano said. “I think she put in a real positive word with Jessica with us. So that was incredible. That was kind of a residual effect that I didn’t really think that would have that kind of impact. Obviously I was really happy that it did.”

The USTA Pro Circuit returns for the third time to host the Waco Showdown $80K at the Hurd Tennis Center. This time, Hinojosa will take part, alongside Baylor teammates Angelina Shakhraichuk and Livia Kraus who all received wild cards into singles qualifying.

The qualifier, which features 32 players competing for eight spots in the main draw, begins at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Baylor freshmen Kristina Sorokolet and Dominika Sujova also received a wild card into the tournaments’s doubles main draw. Meanwhile, senior Theresa Van Zyl won last month’s wild-card qualifying tournament to earn a spot in the singles main draw.

“Theresa’s been incredibly consistent,” Scrivano said. “She’s taken her tennis to a new level. Just really excited for her. She’s been a consistent worker. She never misses practice. She has a great attitude. She’s been putting in the time. As a coach, you’re always rooting for those players that do things the right way, that they succeed. It’s fun to see how she’s grown and to see where her game is headed.”

Scrivano wished this event happened every week on campus as it allows his players to learn from the professionals they watch and compete against. He said it’s an “incredible experience” for them.

“Professional tennis has a lot of different levels,” Scrivano said. “A tournament of this caliber, an $80,000 event, you have players who are competing for Grand Slams. You’re at the very top, or near the top, of professional tennis. For our players to see the way these professionals conduct themselves, just the way they do business every day, it’s a great experience for them. To compete against them and see where their own game matches up against these pros, just incredible.”

The Waco Showdown is scheduled to take place from Sunday through Nov. 12. The event is free to the public.

“It’s just an incredible opportunity for the community to get behind professional tennis and contribute in some way to American tennis,” Scrivano said. “It brings a lot of people from all over the world to Waco. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved — for the USTA pro circuits, for Baylor, for Waco, obviously for our tennis program. Everybody’s winning when a tournament like this comes to our town.”

The USTA Pro Circuit is the pathway to the U.S. Open and tour-level competition for aspiring tennis players. Andy Murray, Sloane Stephens, John Isner, Maria Sharapova, Kei Nishikori, Victoria Azarenka and Sam Querrey are among today’s top tennis players who began their careers on the USTA Pro Tennis Circuit.

The first two years this tournament came to Waco, it was $50,000. According to Waco Showdown tournament director Jeff Abshire, the USTA made a move this year to up the prize to $60,000. Additionally, they asked Waco and two other tournaments at the end of the year, one in Macon, Georgia and the other in Tyler, Texas, to go up to $80,000. This is the first year for the prize money to be this high.

“That’s reflected in the quality of players that will be coming,” Abshire said. “It’s going to be a very deep field (with) higher rankings than in the past two years.”

Former Grand Slam champ Francesca Schiavone of Italy is the top-ranked player in the tournament. Schiavone won the 2010 French Open singles title to become the first Italian women to win a Grand Slam event in singles.

“Now that we have this pro tournament going on, we’re happy to provide it free of charge,” Abshire said. “Fans can feel free to come and go. (It will be) mostly during the week and the daytimes, in addition to a Tuesday night match and then the championship weekend with the semifinals and finals on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12. ... It’s highly unusual to have a Grand Slam champion in our town that we get to see free of charge.”

The Waco Showdown is the last tournament on the Pro Circuit. Beyond the $80,00 level of prize money, there’s a wild card up for grabs.

“So the last three tournaments of the pro circuit for the women, the American that earns the most number of points in those three tournaments combined earns a wild card entry into the Australian Open main draw,” Abshire said. “All of the Americans are focused on trying to get as many points as they can over these three tournaments in order to get that wild card berth.”

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Francesca Schiavone

Italy's Francesca Schiavone returns the ball to Australia's Samantha Stosur during the women's final match of the French Open at Roland Garros in 2010. Schiavone won 6-4, 7-6(2).

Free tennis clinic

Free tennis clinics for children and adults will precede Tuesday’s and Saturday’s feature matches again this year at the Waco Showdown $80K, tournament director Jeff Abshire announced.

A children’s clinic for ages 11 and under will begin at 5 p.m. before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. match at Baylor’s Hurd Tennis Center, with touring pros joining local teaching professionals and BU staffers to provide group and individual instruction.

Participants must wear tennis shoes and can bring their own rackets if they wish, although equipment will be provided for those who don’t. The clinic will last for about 50 minutes, and children and their parents are welcome to stay for the only night match of tournament week. Match participants will not be determined until the tournament draw is finalized. Admission is free.

Free clinics for both children and adults are also planned for 10 a.m. Saturday before the singles semifinals begin at 11 a.m.

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