A first step to the Volvo Car Open

The Volvo Car Open is still more than a month away, but a fairly significant step is about to be taken toward this long-running women’s tournament being played for the first time with a name other than the Family Circle Cup.

A wild card directly into the main draw of the Volvo Car Open is a pretty valuable prize. That’s why many eyes will be focused on the inaugural Shape Invitational Tuesday through Thursday at Family Circle Tennis Center. Attendance is free.

Twelve talented collegians are scheduled to compete in the Americans-only event. Four three-player groups will play round-robins on Tuesday, with the winner of each flight advancing to Wednesday’s semifinals.

Californians Hadley Berg and Page Cline, and Floridian Caroline Dailey will represent 37th-ranked South Carolina. Junior No. 1 Liza Feldsend of New Braunfels, Texas, will represent College of Charleston.

Duke’s Beatrice Capra and Kaithlyn McCarthy will be difficult to turn back, along with Southern No. 1/Alabama-bound McKenna Jones of Greenville and LSU-bound Raveena Kingsley among others.

The singles champion and doubles winners will receive wild cards into the Volvo Car main draws.

Coach Mike Baker’s defending Big South women’s champion Charleston Southern team (2-0) will open its conference season on Tuesday against Radford at home. The Bucs’ roster includes senior standout Mi’Kola Cooper of Porter-Gaud and sophomore Kristen Farmer, a former Berkeley star who, like Cooper, was an All-Lowcountry performer.

The College of Charleston women are off to a 5-3 start, but coach Angelo Anastopoulo’s team won’t open Colonial Athletic Conference play until next Friday at Hofstra. Coach Jay Bruner’s C of C men (5-3) also have not played a CAA match.

The Citadel men entered the weekend with a 7-9 record, which is a big improvement for coach Chuck Kriese’s club over last season’s initial 2-30 season under the former Clemson coach. The Bulldogs’ singles starters include Charleston product Jackson Pride, who attended the Baylor (Tenn.) School, as well as doubles starter Connor Grady of Porter-Gaud.

Bailey Shelbourne of Summerville and freshman Jeff Jones from last season’s Class AA champion Bishop England team also are on the Bulldogs’ roster, along with two other players from the state.

Academic Magnet has three starters back from last year’s 8-5 boys team, but it may be difficult for sophomores Michael Pi and Brandon Kassous, and Ardy Bahadori to break into the Raptors’ starting singles lineup this season.

The reason? First-year boys coach Andrea Langley has five highly touted newcomers. No wonder, she says, “I’m super excited” about the Raptors’ prospects for possibly challenging defending Class AA state champion Bishop England for local AA supremacy.

Jacob Jahn, only a freshman and one of the state’s top players, leads the way for the Raptors after making All-Lowcountry as a seventh-grader at Wando two years ago. He sat out last season while concentrating on junior tennis.

Freshman Vinod Pandey started on a 2015 Wando team that was Lower State Class AAAA runner-up. Then there’s the Navarro brothers, sophomore Earl and senior Owen, as well as talented sophomore Sam Kavarana. That’s five new faces.

Of course, Bishop England has the South’s top-rated 16-and-under player in Jared Pratt, along with talented sophomore Lleyton Dacuba and big-serving junior Brian Privett. Both Dacuba and Privett won key singles matches during the Bishops’ victories in the 2015 state semifinals and final.

Also, Wando isn’t exactly hurting with All-Lowcountry senior Scotty Cameron back, but the Warriors did lose the solid DaCosta brothers (Andrew and Robert) to graduation after last spring’s 14-2-1 success.

Although defending SCISA Class AAA state champion Porter-Gaud lost three-time All-Lowcountry Brant Fenno to online schooling for at least his sophomore year, don’t count the Cyclones out. Porter-Gaud has No. 1 Cross Tolliver back for his senior year, supported by hard-hitting junior Malone Vingi and an outstanding group of veteran young players such as sophomores Manning Snyder and Connor Craigie, and junior Jack Kammerer.

The Cyclones still have the luxury of playing in a weakened region in the departure of perennial power Hilton Head Prep and usually solid Hilton Head Christian from Class AAA.

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his latest columns on Grand Slam tennis at ubitennis.net