The 42nd Family Circle Cup is a dream come true for the tournament's vast legion of loyal fans. For the first time, the Charleston area is represented in both the qualifying tournament and the main draw.
Sixteen-year-old Ellie Halbauer and 21-year-old Shelby Rogers both grew up and trained in or around Family Circle Tennis Center. The common denominator for the start of both players' early tennis training was Bryan Minton.
"It's pretty neat that Ellie is in the qualifying and Shelby is in the main draw ... and Brooke Mosteller, Miss South Carolina, will sing the national anthem in the stadium (before the Family Circle Cup championship match on April 6). I taught Brooke (tennis), too," Minton proudly said Friday.
Minton, a former College of Charleston standout, is a Family Circle Tennis Center pro.
He has fond memories of the first times he saw Rogers and Halbauer on a tennis court.
Minton's initial training sessions with Rogers came at Fritz Nau's tennis academy at the Family Circle complex in 2001.
"The first time I saw Shelby I knew there was something special about this kid. I remember her standing out like that . . . tall and skinny with a little Mickey Mouse hat," Minton said.
"Shelby was with me all the way until the academy moved back to Family Circle Tennis Center in 2010, except for a few months she spent at Nick Bollettieri's in 2008."
Rogers now trains at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla.
"Ellie trained with me at the Players Club from 2006-08, and the first time I saw her she was 8 years old. She was on a back clay court at the Players Club. She had two balls in her left hand like Steffi Graf. She tossed one up and cracked a serve, and I could see her potential. I knew she could have a really good tennis career," Minton said.
Minton saw his proteges again together on Thursday at Family Circle Tennis Center. "Ellie and Shelby came out to practice yesterday with the kids from FCC," Minton said. "It was great to have them out and it was really cool to see them practicing together."
Of course, Family Circle Cup general manager Bob Moran is proud of this moment in the Family Circle Cup's 14-year era on Daniel Island. "This speaks volumes about what a pro tournament can mean to a tennis community such as Charleston's," Moran said.
Halbauer earned the right to play in this weekend's qualifying tournament by winning last month's Dunlop Junior Championship at Family Circle Tennis Center. The former Charleston resident who now resides in the Boca Raton, Fla., area faces a stiff challenge in her opening qualifying match today.
In the third match on the Althea Gibson Club Court where play will begin at 10 a.m., Halbauer has drawn No. 6 seed Victoria Duval, a 136th-ranked 18-year-old who was one of the young American stars of last year's U.S. Open. Grace Min, another young American, plays the first match on the Club Court, followed by highly touted young American Taylor Townsend.
Zarina Diyas, a No. 105-ranked 20-year-old from Kazakhstan, is the No. 1 seed in qualifying.
Halbauer and the rest of the 32-draw qualifying field will have only one thing on their minds this weekend: Winning two matches and joining the 110th-ranked Rogers and the rest of the field in the main draw of the Family Circle Cup, which starts on Monday.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com.