It might be tough to quantify how much The Women’s Hospital Classic means to founder Anna Hazlett and Kim Poynter, the tournament director for the U.S. Tennis Association $60K Pro Circuit event. But after 24 years and hundreds of lives impacted, one can imagine the pride they feel.
The singles and doubles tournament features up to 60 players, many of whom are about to break into the top 100 internationally. The Women’s Hospital Classic also is part of the US Open Wildcard Challenge, in which players can accumulate points to qualify for the US Open draw. The tournament will be played at Wesselman Tennis Center’s hard surface courts from July 17-23.
Hazlett still is involved despite stepping down as tournament director in 2019, and Poynter continues to be a major force as the tournament director. The continuity of leadership has helped grow and nurture the tournament to where it is today.
“It’s huge,” Chris Ryan, CEO of The Women’s Hospital, says of having Poynter and Hazlett at the helm for so many years. “The year Anna told me she was retiring, I did freak out a little bit. She was so instrumental in making me understand how important this is for female tennis athletes making the circuit. She made sure I always knew what was happening. She introduced me to Kim, and she has followed in that same suit.”
The Classic has seen solid growth in prize money and talent. In 2022, the tournament moved up to being a $60,000 winnings event on the USTA Pro Circuit. Three of the four semi-finalists last year went on to compete in the main draw of the US Open. The Classic’s number-one seed in 2022, Alycia Parks, is currently ranked number 43 in the world. Eight of the top 100 players have played in the Women’s Hospital Classic, including Naomi Osaka — a two-time US Open winner.
Players in the tournament — usually between the ages of 18 and 23 years — are ranked 100-150 in the world, and many are nearing the top 50 and 100 of international tennis. The Women’s Hospital Classic has risen in prominence as a chance to see elite talent on the cusp of national and international recognition.
The USTA Pro Circuit dates to 1979 and provides American players the opportunity to earn professional ranking points to qualify for higher-level tournaments. The Circuit now is the largest Pro Circuit in the world, featuring around 100 events each year.
The Women’s Hospital Classic started in 1999 as the Fifth Third Bank Classic, a satellite tournament offering $10,000 in prize money. Hazlett and her late husband, Steve, started the tournament to give young Midwestern players an entry point into women’s tennis when there were no $10,000-level tournaments in the U.S. Their daughter Stephanie also was attempting to break into the professional tennis ranks. Long-time Evansville tennis supporter Phyllis “Woodie” Sublett Walker used her connections as an internationally acclaimed official to help get the tournament off the ground.
The event lost Fifth Third as the main sponsor in 2009, leaving the tournament’s future in doubt. Richard Sandefur, a long-time tennis player in the area and Women’s Hospital board member, helped connect Hazlett and Ryan. The Women’s Hospital has been the title sponsor for 15 years.
“Anna came to me and said, ‘Richard, I don’t think we’re going to have the tournament, I have beat the pavement hunting for a title sponsor,’” Sandefur says. “I said, ‘Give me two days.’”
“I was on the finance committee and board of directors of The Women’s Hospital, and I talked to them about all the benefits of helping women in tennis and sports. I convinced them this was a win for the community, a win for The Women’s Hospital, and a win for tennis in Evansville as well. They all said ‘OK let’s use it as a promotional thing for us. We can help young women in sports, and we can help the community as a whole.’ We’re still here today,” Sandefur says.
Hazlett has been grateful for the connection and the support through the years.
“It’s been a perfect fit,” she says. “Chris Ryan has been wonderful to work with. We wouldn’t be where we are now without them.” “When Dr. Sandefur introduced me to Anna, she was this adorable lady. She was so passionate about it, you couldn’t say no to her,” Ryan says. “Our passion for the hospital mission has always been to improve the health and well-being of women in the community. What better way to do that than to support women athletes in starting on the tennis circuit?”
The logistics for putting the tournament together are enormous, and planning for the next year begins shortly after the present year is finished.
“In September, after the US Open finishes, we receive our tournament dates for the following year. At this time, we must start negotiations with local hotels to lock in our room reservations for the tournament to assure players and officials have a place to stay,” Poynter says.
The title sponsor and other high-level donors also are set then, with work on additional sponsors coming in January. Setting up chief officials and other match officials takes place in February.
“Officials are our biggest expense,” Poynter says. “We are responsible for their housing and food for the week. A continental breakfast and fruit for the players as well as feeding the ball runners is another expense. We look for in-kind sponsors to cover this.”
By March, Poynter is sending letters to members of the Evansville Community Tennis Association, which conducts the tournament. She does a walkthrough at the Wesselman tennis facility, replacing nets, screens, and other on-court items. Event tents for July’s tournament must be ordered in April to assure availability. There must be a plethora of towels on hand, and racket stringers are in demand during the tournament.
“They will string 100 rackets that week,” Poynter says. “They are stringing day and night.”
“The week before the tournament we are picking up banners from all the sponsors, we’re putting together player bags, coordinating close to 100 volunteers, and we have 50 ball kids a day,” Poynter says.
Community members can attend the Classic for free and enjoy several outreach opportunities. On the Friday of the tournament, a one-hour women’s clinic is offered with local coaches, a USTA trainer, and several professional players. Instructors perform on-court drills and discuss proper stretching, fluid intake, and nutrition before ending the clinic with a social brunch.
At the popular Family Day clinic Saturday, coaches provide free instruction to junior and adult players but keep the mood light with games, prizes, and an appearance by the Disney character Shrek. Sunday’s strawberries and cream event, reminiscent of breakfast at Wimbledon and held just before the finals, is a fan favorite.
The combined efforts, and the support across the community, are reasons why The
Women’s Hospital Classic still is successful — and growing more so — after more than
two decades. The shelf life for most similar events usually only is two or three years because it takes so much time to put a tournament together and then run it.
“We have been very fortunate that we have a lot of other sponsors that come for- ward and help us fund the tournament,” Hazlett says. “USTA supplied most of the prize money in 2022. In 2004, we were chosen as a model tournament. Right now, we’re one of three in the United States that has lasted as long as we have. We have a super reputation in the country. Kim has really stepped up to the plate. Now I help with set up; I’m right behind her watching her back.”
Alexis Berggren, president and CEO of Explore Evansville, helps put in perspective the impact from The Women’s Hospital Classic.
“The Women’s Hospital Classic Tournament is a significant event for Evansville, both in terms of economic impact and in raising the profile of our community,” Berggren says.
“Over its rich 24-year history, the tournament has attracted world class athletes to our area and generated millions of dollars for our local economy. As one of only three USTA $60K point qualifying tournaments for the US Open, you can’t understate the level of play and excitement around this event.”
In 2022, The Women’s Hospital Classic hosted approximately 100 players, and Explore Evansville estimated hotel room nights at 340 booked and total business sales at $781,243.60.
This year, “thanks to the work of Kim Poynter and Anna Hazlett, we expect to add over 200 more room nights,” Berggren says. “This kind of growth can only be attributed to the vision and dedication of the organizers. Events of this caliber and complexity require meticulous planning, and Kim and Anna have helped propel Evansville’s tennis scene onto a national stage.”
Additional praise can be extended to the Classic’s long-term supporters. MaddenCo Inc. and Jack Rogers Realtor Inc. have been tournament sponsors each year. Lic’s Deli & Ice Cream has hosted the tournament’s popular free Strawberry and Cream Finals since the beginning. Evansville Tennis Center supporter Theresa Vincent has volunteered for years, organizing the players’ party.
Tricia Henning, director and financial advisor of the Hollander Group at Baird, is a financial supporter of The Women’s Hospital Classic. She became involved through her association with the Evansville Tennis Center, as well as Hazlett and Poynter.
“They have built a great team of volunteers to work with them to help make the event successful,” Henning says. “Because they are both so widely known within tennis circles across the country, they have been very successful in helping the tournament grow and expanding the tournament to the $60K level. This tournament allows children within our community who are interested in tennis to view it at a very high level, and these junior players can aspire to play at that level, too.”
WHEN YOU GO
The Women’s Hospital Classic
July 17-23, 2023
Wesselman Tennis Center, 551 N. Boeke Road