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Bellis driving interest in Carlsbad Classic

CARLSBAD — In just a few days, the new season for the Women’s Tennis Association’s takes center court.

And after a two-year hiatus, professional tennis returns to the city with the Carlsbad Classic. The tournament runs from Sunday through Nov. 29 at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort.

The tournament brings a mixed bag of ranked players, although one of the main attractions comes from a budding California teenager.

CiCi Bellis, who captured national headlines two years ago with a first-round upset over 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, at the 2014 U.S. Open, is part of the 32-player singles draw.

The San Francisco native and Southern California resident, just 16, has been climbing the ranks and is one player local fans are drawn to, according to Carlsbad Classic Tournament Director Ben Goldsmith.

“She’s our biggest draw, but she’s only ranked 200-something in the world,” he said. “Everyone loves this American girl and she had a huge run at the U.S. Open. We’ve had more calls about her than anybody.”

Despite the popularity of Bellis, the inaugural tournament also boasts talent such as Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium, formerly ranked 12th in the world, Nichole Mossmerr of La Jolla, Alexandra Stevenson, also of La Jolla and daughter of NBA icon Julius Erving, and Carlsbad’s own Brett Berger, a 15-year-old sophomore at La Costa High School. Berger received a main draw wild card for her first WTA event.

“We think Carlsbad’s own Brett Berger will be a big name in the WTA in years to come,” Goldsmith added. “We have really good-named players and good up-and-coming players”

Goldsmith and Director of Ticket Sales Kyla Brown said the response leading up to the tournament has been positive.

“People want to see pro tennis back in San Diego,” Brown explained. “There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a very successful pro tennis tournament here. There’s tons of tennis fans here.”

The success of the women’s tournament will decide whether or not Goldsmith and Brown can expand the tournament to include a men’s field in the future.

With a men’s and women’s field, the plan is to create a substantial tournament on the WTA tour.

“We want a combined men’s and women’s event before Indian Wells,” Goldsmith said. “Everything we are doing is for that purpose. Next year, we are going spend a lot of money to bring in a really big name.”

Another draw, other than the players, is a VIP event featuring Kimberly Caldwell at 5 p.m. on Sunday. In addition, Brown said kids 14 and under will be admitted free on Wednesday, while general admission ticket prices are now $15 per day. Box seats start at $40.

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