For a half-century, the Dillingham Tennis Championship was a fixture on the Punahou campus and the event is being revived as part of the school’s 175th anniversary.
But for much of its history the tournament’s influence stretched well beyond lower Manoa.
"It wasn’t just about a tennis tournament," said Bernard Gusman, the Dillingham’s tournament director over its final decade.
"What happens is the entire tennis community would gather around the Dillingham. … It meant a lot to me because it really became more a tennis community event versus a ‘Punahou School event.’ "
Founded in 1952, the tournament grew into a showcase for the state’s top players and an annual reunion for the local tennis community. But the tournament eventually outgrew the school’s facility and it was decided to send it out on its 50th birthday in 2002.
"We basically said, ‘Let’s finish on a good note, let’s wrap up the 50th, let’s go out with a bang,’ " said Gusman, who coached the Buffanblu girls program to seven state championships, the boys to one and continues to oversee Punahou’s tennis school.
As plans for Punahou’s anniversary began to take shape, it was suggested the tennis school bring the Dillingham back for one more run. Two years in the planning, the tournament returns this week in the spirit which made it one of the state’s premier events.
The tournament’s opening matches are scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Punahou’s Dillingham Tennis Complex. The seeded players start on Wednesday with the finals set for Oct. 12. Admission is free.
DILLINGHAM TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP
» Today: Opening matches, 6 p.m.
As in its 50-year run, the tournament attracted local pros, college players and juniors and will feature play in men’s singles and doubles and women’s doubles. Women’s singles won’t be held due to an overlap with a women’s college event that kept entry numbers down.
Punahou usually runs a junior tournament over Discoverer’s Day weekend and Gusman said the plan is for this year’s Dillingham to be a one-time return. So tournament organizers have packed quite a bit into the week-long event.
Along with being part of Punahou’s anniversary, the Dillingham will also serve as the USTA Hawaii Pacific Section Open Championships. The men’s singles winner will receive a wild card into the main draw of the Tennis Championships of Maui (formerly the Royal Lahaina Challenger) set for January. The other finalist will have a wild card into the tournament’s qualifying draw.
"We tried to put as much as we could together to make it fun and exciting for everyone," Gusman said.
The men’s singles draw is headlined by local college players representing Hawaii Pacific University, which topped the Division II rankings last season, the University of Hawaii and BYU Hawaii.
HPU senior Thibaud Berland is the top men’s seed followed by Sharks teammate Jaume Martinez-Vich.
The men’s doubles draw is led by the duo of Jan-Michael Gambill, a teaching pro who was ranked as high as 14th in the world, and Keanu Ellen, who trains under Gambill and is the top-ranked 18-year-old in the state.
Gambill reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2000 and the fourth-round of the U.S. Open in 2004. He notched wins over Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in his singles career and coached and played in Mylan World Team Tennis this summer.
Punahou boys coach Ikaika Jobe and Andrea Zannoni are the second-seeded team.
Three women’s doubles teams entered the tournament. Taylor Lau of Saint Francis, the state champion as a freshman in 2014, is playing with Punahou’s Katerina Corpuz. Roberta Russo, a former pro from Italy now teaching on the Big Island, will play with Maile Brilhante, No. 2 in the state girls 14 rankings. Karen Ramirez and Rie Yukihiro make up the third duo.
Spectators can get involved in the festivities in a Wilson Demo Day on Sunday between the semifinals. The event will include lessons and the opportunity to try out new Wilson equipment.
A "play day" for children ages 8 and under will be held in conjunction with the finals on Oct. 12. The Punahou junior varsity teams and the tennis school’s teaching pros will hold a free one-hour lesson for the youngsters.