Now 11 years into its existence, the Palmetto Pro Open should no longer a novelty act to the Sumter community.

The USTA Pro Circuit event is a 32-player women’s tournament held every summer in Palmetto Tennis Center.

The PPO has brought some of the best up-and-coming talent in women’s tennis — along with a few veterans trying to work their ways back up the world rankings — to Sumter’s beautiful tennis facility. It has been so successful that it has grown from a $10,000 tournament to a $25,000 tournament, and the PTC now plays host to two USTA events. The inaugural Sumter Pink Open was held last October.

Unfortunately, these events have been sparsely attended by local residents. Yes, you have your tennis diehards who will be there when the opportunity presents itself, but because of the anonymity of the overwhelming majority of the players, there just isn’t a lot of buzz.

There are a few intriguing names, but mainly because their father was a well-know athlete. Here’s a little secret though; the young women — many of them in their mid-teens — are the future of women’s professional tennis.

Slowly, but surely, the PPO is building up a nice little resume at the top of the women’s tennis. The first Palmetto Pro Open alum to reach a Grand Slam final was Eugenie Bouchard, who played for the 2014 Wimbledon title.

The first Grand Slam champion to have graced the PTC courts was Sloane Stephens. She won the 2017 U.S. Open crown. Now there is another PPO alum wearing a Grand Slam crown — 2018 U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka.

That’s right! Osaka played in Sumter five years ago as a 15-year-old. It wasn’t a very memorable tournament for Osaka; she lost in the first round to eventual champion Jamie Loeb.

With the large number of Asian players who have played in the Palmetto Pro Open over the years, I decided to peruse through the archives of The Sumter Item. And sure enough, there was Osaka’s name.

Bouchard and Stephens both played in the inaugural PPO in 2008. Bouchard had to go through the qualifying rounds as a 14-year-old to make the main draw only to lose in the first round. Stephens was a 15-year-old who reached the semifinals.

So when these young women return to Sumter again, try to make it out to Palmetto Tennis Center and watch them play. Though their world rankings may be in the 300s and 400s, there is no doubt they are the future of women’s tennis.

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