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Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships boast strongest field ever

Adrian Mannarino’s career-best ATP ranking was No. 27, achieved last July.
Adrian Mannarino’s career-best ATP ranking was No. 27, achieved last July. AP

The Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships get underway at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center at the University of Kentucky on Saturday, and this year’s field appears to be the strongest in the 22-year history of the tournament.

The event, also called the Lexington Challenger, is part of the United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit, which is a pathway to the U.S. Open and other Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour-level tournaments. The men’s and women’s singles champions will earn automatic wild-card berths in the U.S. Open.

Four men ranked in the world’s top-100 will compete in the Lexington Challenger, the most in the tournament’s history. At No. 55, Adrian Mannarino of France will be the highest-ranked player to ever compete in the $100,000 event.

Mannarino has racked up more than $420,000 in prize money on the year and competed at Wimbledon this summer, falling in the second round to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. He has reached the round of 16 in his last three tournaments.

Also ranked in the top 100 are No. 60 Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, No. 88 Jordan Thompson of Australia and No. 91 Daniel Evans of Great Britain.

Because of the amount of interest from high-caliber players, entrants who don’t receive wild-card berths can be ranked no lower than 240 in the world, the highest cutoff in Lexington Challenger history. Former University of Kentucky head tennis coach Dennis Emery, who helped organize the event, said the typical cutoff is around 450.

“Normally we’ll have one player ranked in the top 100, maybe two,” Emery said. “This is the deepest field we’ve ever had and what that tells you is there’s going to be a lot of great matches.

“This is a key part of the American tennis scene in the summer … this event becomes the Mecca of American tennis during this week.”

The ATP and Women’s Tennis Association are in Canada for the Rogers Cup next week.

Though the tournament field won’t be finalized until the end of this week it will probably include two faces familiar to UK tennis fans, former Kentucky All-Americans Eric Quigley and Jesse Witten.

Quigley earned All-America honors three times at UK and is currently ranked No. 207 in the world. Witten is a four-time All-American ranked 1,009 in the world, but Emery said he’s likely to earn a wild-card slot in the field. Witten lost to Djokovic in the 2010 U.S. Open.

The top-ranked singles players in the women’s field are No. 119 Kristyna Pliskova and No. 186 Olga Govortsova. All of the women who qualified for the main draw are ranked 183 in the world or better.

Qualifying rounds will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday with free admission. Main Draw play will begin Monday (July 25). Tickets to main draw matches are $10 per day.

Josh Sullivan: 859-231-3225, @sullyjosh

Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships

Where: Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center, University of Kentucky

When: July 23-31

Tickets: Saturday and Sunday qualifying rounds, free; Main Draw, $10 per day, $50 for weeklong pass.