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The ATP Challenger Tour makes its debut in Cleveland, Ohio, in late January.

Cleveland Debut Highlights January Challenger Slate

Cleveland Open presented by Cleveland Clinic to feature on ATP Challenger Tour in late January

As the calendar ticks to 2019, the new ATP Challenger Tour season is already underway across the globe. A fresh campaign signals a new year of promise for players plotting their ascent in the ATP Rankings. 

Opportunities abound in the month of January, with a total of 14 events on five continents. The longest-running of the group is the BNP Paribas de Nouvelle-Calédonie on the island paradise of Noumea, which celebrates its 16th anniversary this week. And the lone clay-court event is in Punta del Este, Uruguay. 

The tournaments are joined by a trio of new members of the Challenger family. The inaugural Cleveland Open presented by Cleveland Clinic celebrates its debut towards the end of the month, along with fellow first-time events in Orlando, USA and Da Nang, Vietnam.

After a long hiatus, professional tennis is back in Cleveland. It has been 34 years since the ATP Tour last held a tournament in the bustling city in northern Ohio. Located on the shores of Lake Erie, the manufacturing metropolis is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and multiple sports franchises. 

While the state of Ohio has enjoyed plenty of world-class tennis over the years, with Cincinnati hosting a prestigious ATP Masters 1000 event (Western & Southern Open) and the campus of Ohio State University welcoming the Columbus Challenger since 2015, the city of Cleveland is back on the scene for the first time in more than three decades. When Brad Gilbert lifted the trophy at the 1985 Society Bank Tennis Classic, it marked the conclusion of the city's 11-year stay on the ATP Tour.

"Cincinnati is of course the big tournament in the Midwest, but it's nice that Cleveland has a Challenger," Gilbert told ATPWorldTour.com. "There are a lot more Challengers in the U.S. now, which is great. It's good for a lot of young players wanting to play many pro tournaments. 

"I remember when I played in Cleveland it was held at the old Harold T. Clark courts. It was in the most obscure place, right across from a military airport. But I usually did well in those kinds of tournaments. I actually also won in nearby Columbus the year before. I remember it was super windy and right on the lake. And there were train tracks there as well and you'd hear the freights traveling by. You'd hear trains and planes all the time, but it worked for me. And Ohio fans are so passionate. I've been to Cincinnati nearly every year since 1985 and the tournament has massively improved. People travel from all over the country to come there."

Tennis legends Ken Rosewall (1973 champ), Ilie Nastase (1979 finalist) and Guillermo Vilas (1980 semi-finalist) also competed at the former Cleveland tournament.

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Now, Cleveland is back. With a Challenger 90 tournament slated for the last week in January, the indoor facility at the Cleveland Racquet Club will welcome world-class tennis for the first time. Considering that snow and wind are mid-winter staples of the city by the lake, the venue's 10 indoor plexicushion courts will be put to good use.

The Cleveland Racquet Club dates back to May 1969, when a 26-acre site was purchased in the eastern suburb of Pepper Pike. The facility opened its doors a year later and has since expanded to include a total of 24 tennis courts, also featuring a dozen outdoor clay courts.

The tournament is already looking to become an integral part of the entire region, organising a wild card competition held across four locations in the midwest United States. Aspiring pros are competing in four cities - Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Cleveland - with the hope of securing a main draw berth into the big show at the end of the month. The winner of each location will battle in a four-man playoff for the coveted wild card.

The inaugural Cleveland Open presented by Cleveland Clinic is set to run from 28 January to 3 February.

ATP Challenger Tour 

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