Southgate Tennis Tournament hits 43 years

Former Anderson player Cordero Sheets was the Men’s singles runner-up in 2019

Annual event puts the city on the Michigan tennis map

Dave Gorgon

The prestigious city-hosted sporting event that puts Southgate on the Michigan tennis map is being held for the 43rd consecutive year this summer.

The Southgate Tennis Tournament has drawn ranked players from around the state, the nation and the world. It is one of the longest running tennis events in Michigan.

The event this year is divided into two parts: The Junior Open Tennis Tournament, which took place July 24-26; and the Open Tennis Tournament, set for Aug. 14-16. Registration for the open tournament continues through Aug. 11.

Divisions in the open tourney include men’s singles and doubles, men’s 40 and over singles, men’s 50 and over doubles (a new event this year), women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles.

Junior players – typically anyone 18 and under – are invited to enter the open tournament as well. For example, a soAlid 16-year-old high school player is welcome to enter a singles or doubles event in the open tournament.

Admission is $20 for a singles event. A player paying to enter a singles event may play free in a doubles event. The fee for anyone playing only in a doubles event is $10. Each player is guaranteed two matches per division, weather permitting. Players may sign up to compete in more than one division.

The tournament is run on a best-two-of-three-sets format. When a set is tied at 6-all, the 12-point Coman tiebreaker rule will be used.

Awards will be presented to the champion and runner-up in each division.

For the second year in a row, the Southgate tournament is being played on the new courts built in 2018 at Southgate Anderson High School.

 History in the Making

Why do so many outstanding players want to play in the Southgate tournament?

“We’re fairly well known across the state,” said Tournament Director Sol Muzher, who also directs the city’s Parks and Recreation tennis program. “While the majority of players are from Michigan, from the east side through Ann Arbor and even the west side of the state, we typically draw some players from Ontario and Ohio as well.

“We are well known. Part of that has to do with the fact that we have been fortunate to have a nice strong level of talent that makes people want to return… It’s a chance to become a part of the great history of the Southgate Open Tennis Tournament.”

The talent pool has ranged from Southgate favorite Cordaro Sheets to ranked players from France, Poland, Australia, Venezuela, and other locations.

Sheets has been a standout since his high school playing days at Anderson. Last year, he was runner-up in the city’s men’s open singles competition. Now 26 years old, Sheets is expected to enter again in 2020.

The 1996 tournament was one for the history books. That year, Pascal De Sainte Claire was a ranked clay-court player from France who was also a chemistry teaching assistant at Wayne State University. That year, he won the men’s open in a three-set, three-hour match against Richard Rydel, a 19-year-old nationally ranked player from Poland.

De Sainte Claire is the last player to win two consecutive men’s open singles championships in Southgate. The year before, 1995, he defeated Western Michigan University tennis player Mark Shenton in straight sets.

In more recent years, the competition has been impressive as well:

● In 2009, Michigan State University player Brendan Kinkopf defeated Chris Song, a high school state champion from Ann Arbor Greenhills and a future tennis player at Cornell University, in a thrilling three-set match.

● In a 2010 battle between two Division 1 college tennis players, Cesar Escobar, a native of El Salvador, defeated Canadian Alex Latosinsky from Sarnia, Ontario.

● In 2013, Jibril Nettles – then a 13-year-old tennis phenom – became the youngest Southgate Open Men’s Singles champion, defeating Detroiter Jordan Parker, a standout player who currently has a world ATP ranking. ATP is the Association of Tennis Professionals.

● In 2014, Australian native and Division 1 college player Nathan Ponton defeated Venezuela native Juan Lopez to win the championship.

 A Tournament to Remember

The attraction for players is significant, according to the director, “Coach Sol.”

“It is pretty cool,” he said. “Anytime you can get those types of players to participate is outstanding for what is categorically a parks and recreation tournament. It doesn’t get much better for the director.”

He said he wants players and spectators to have a good time and have competitive matches, especially in the finals.

Muzher, a past player in the Southgate tournament, became assistant director of the event in 1996 and was named director in 2008. He has been the city’s director of tennis since 2012, providing lessons for children and adults. He has organized tournaments in other communities, too. In addition, he is a former tennis coach at Riverview Gabriel Richard High School, guiding teams to championships and top-10 rankings while earning “coach of the year” recognition.

Coach Sol said he is proud of the fact that the Southgate tournament continued in other communities from 2005 to 2018, while the Southgate city courts were in disrepair. Taylor Kennedy High School, Wyandotte’s Pulaski Park, Woodhaven High School, Grosse Ile High School and Trenton High School all served as hosts in multiple years. During days of inclement weather in several years, portions of the tournament were moved indoors to the Grosse Ile Tennis Center.

The building of the new courts at Southgate Anderson in 2018 was a godsend to local tennis players, including the high school teams.

Muzher said “building of the new courts at Southgate Anderson is important to the success of the event. I always want to host tournaments at a nice facility.”

Keeping the Southgate tournament strong and growing the event are also important to Coach Sol.

“As tournament director, you want both quantity and quality of players, which we have been fortunate to have at the Southgate tournament for a long time,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have good weather as well.”

To sign up for the 2020 Southgate tournament, call or text the tournament phone line at (734) 552-1214.

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