Selling out the first two nights, the Copa del Café tennis tournament taking place this week in the western San José suburb of Escazú promises to attract bigger crowds than ever.
Celebrating its 45th year, the Copa is a well-respected junior tournament where this year players from 44 different countries have gathered at the Escazú Country Club to compete in front of crowds reaching the 5,200 mark during the first two nights alone.
The tournament brought in more than 160 players to compete in both women and men divisions under two different groups, the under 18 and under 14 divisions.
“The event has been gaining importance in the junior circuit during the last few years,” said Kenneth Thome, chairman of the organizing committee.
An event such as this also helps the local economy, which has suffered somewhat in the current financial crisis.
“The Bowl helps a lot,” said Thome, who has been working for the organizing committee for the last eight years. “We’re utilizing more than 100 rooms at the Quality Inn in Santa Ana. We get a good price but it also helps them.”
Although most of the fans attending this sporting event are Ticos, the participants themselves, along with their families, come early or stay after the event to visit places in Costa Rica.
“This event really puts Costa Rica on the map,” Thome said. “It helps the tourism industry, and it also helps the local restaurants because the players, their coaches and families go out to eat while visiting the area.”
The Junior Circuit has different grading. Tournaments such as the U.S. Open, the Australian Open Wimbledon, and the French Open fall under Grade A.
Other tournaments are classified from Grade 1, which is second to Grade A, all the way down to Grade 5.
During the last 45 years, the Copa del Café has climbed way from Grade 5 to their current Grade 1.
“We have become more professional, more structured and more serious,” Thome said of the tourney. “A lot of the kids that come through here and play are the future stars of the sport.”
Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg, Jona Novotna, Roger Federer, a former and recent No. 1 player in the world, and Andrea Helikova are just some of the big names who have played at the tournament.
Locals such as Alejandra Sánchez, whose daughter María José competed in the tournament, said attending this cup gave her daughter experience she would not gain otherwise through practice alone.
“An event like this one is important for young players like my daughter,” Sánchez said. “It helps them build confidence and knowledge about the game by playing with more experienced players from around the world.”
A tournament such as this one usually attracts a great number of sponsors. Companies such as Coca-Cola, which has participated since the Copa del Café’s first year, pay about $20,000 to promote their products, said Marlon Sirias, general director of advertising for the tournament.
In 2007, the Copa del Café had about 16 sponsors, while last year, the number of companies dropped to 14. This year that number increased to 17.
“The money raised through the sponsors is used to pay for food, accommodations and transportation for the participating players,” Thome said. “We’re basically a non-profit organization with most of our staff working as volunteers.”
The tournament is open to the public for all matches. During the day, entrance is free.
Tickets for night matches are sold at the Escazú Country Club ticket stand and Uno Sports stores. Tickets for this event range from ¢2,000 to ¢6,000 for balcony seats.
The finals for both the under 14 and under 18 matches will be held tomorrow. The former will be in the morning and the latter in the evening.