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Mardy Fish Foundation tennis championships rescheduled from late April to mid-October

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of February 18, 2021)

The 2021 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships have been rescheduled from April to October, when tournament organizers hope enough of the Vero Beach community will be vaccinated against COVID-19 to allow spectators to attend the annual event.

Tournament Director Randy Walker said the United States Tennis Association and the foundation’s board of directors have approved moving the $15,000 men’s professional event, which will be played at The Boulevard Tennis Club, to Oct. 18-24.

The clay-court tournament, which has been played in Vero Beach since 1995, is widely regarded to be among the world’s best entry-level pro tennis events.

Usually scheduled for late April, it was played in October last year, too, because of the coronavirus pandemic – though the event wasn’t sanctioned by the USTA, which had suspended competition at all levels, and offered only $10,000 in prize money.

The tournament is the top fundraiser each year for the foundation, which “supports over 2,400 children throughout Indian River County by funding after-school exercise, nutritional and enrichment programs in a safe environment to prepare them for healthy, productive and successful lives,” according to the foundation.

“We’re still in a pandemic now, and there’s still uncertainty about when people will be able to get the vaccines, so it didn’t make sense to try to play in April, when we’d probably have to do it with no fans,” Walker said.

“Our chances of having fans at the tournament in October are a lot better,” he added, “and even with the protocols we had to follow, the feedback we received last year was really good.”

In fact, Walker said the foundation will consider moving the tournament to the third week in October, just before the end of Daylight Savings Time in Florida, on a permanent basis, if it senses the community prefers watching tennis at that time of year.

He said the foundation might also consider running two events – one in April and another in October – if it can attract the necessary sponsors, volunteers and crowds.

“People in this town love tennis, so it’s certainly something worth discussing,” Walker said. “Maybe we’d have a men’s tournament and a women’s tournament six months apart, or even a seniors event. We wouldn’t want one event to cannibalize the other.

“We know we can be successful in the spring but are there enough seasonal people here in October?” he added. “That’s something we’ll look at this year.”

The foundation was founded by Vero Beach’s home-grown tennis star, Mardy Fish, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist who won six ATP Tour singles titles and reached No. 7 in the world rankings before an anxiety disorder forced him to retire in 2015.

He’s currently the U.S. Davis Cup captain.