Italian Open a smash hit at 25

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:45 PM ET

Anthony Glavanic vividly recalls the inaugural London Italian Open because Greenhills pro Bill Anderson made the final "and it's the last time he played good tennis."

That was a quarter-century ago when the wise-cracking Glavanic, hungry for more competitive matches in London, figured he better start organizing his own tournaments. The personal project, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, now runs on six clay courts at the GoodLife fitness and tennis centre at 1310 Adelaide St. N. -- a far cry from the original Open played on the lone hardcourt in John Hatch's backyard.

"John Sr. used to sit back there and heckle the players," said Glavanic, a local tennis pro and the head coach of the Western men's tennis program. "As it grew, we moved it to different public courts around town -- usually without the city knowing. We'd just show up and start the draw and play all weekend."

There are more than 100 players now -- including some of the top-ranked hitters in Ontario -- and they come from across the province to compete in the all-levels event. That initial ball-belting get-together featured 18 players and its name is simply a play on the bulk of the original entrants' ethnicity.

"Everyone thinks you have to be Italian to play in it, but I'm Croatian," Glavanic said. "We didn't know what to call it but there were a lot of Dinos and Roccos in the first one, so we went with the Italian Open and it stuck."

Now, the only real Italian flavour to the proceedings is the food, but Glavanic also ensures plenty of extra fun for the $50 entry fee -- right up to offering a free yoga class for registering.

"In most tennis tournaments, you lose in the first round and you go right home," he said. "We have meals (at Old Chicago and Bernie's Bar and Grill). We've tried to turn it into a whole weekend for everyone -- win or lose -- whatever their level of tennis."

As drawmaster, Glavanic used to put together grudge matches, pairing players who didn't like each other. But he has passed on those duties to the Ontario Tennis Association as the tournament has turned into a sanctioned event like the London Open beginning July 14 and the Fall Classic during the Labour Day Weekend in September.

Glavanic entered himself this year and would've been a natural court foe for Anderson, a former national over-45 champion who ended up drawing a much younger opponent this time.

"I'm playing a 20-year-old," the 53-year-old Anderson said yesterday before his opener. "I have socks older than that and I'm wearing them right now."

He can't even blame Glavanic for setting him up.


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