Soon enough, we will be talking about the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic in the same way we speak of the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, Australian Open and more. But for the man who created the first 500-level WTA event promoted by an African American, tennis coach and commentator Kamau Murray, he’s already reached his major goal. He’s brought tennis to his native city, which hasn’t seen a tournament like this in decades.
“It’s a major step forward in tennis and a great opportunity for the city,” he tells ESSENCE of women’s tournament, running from Sept. 27 through Oct. 3. It caps off Murray’s first Chicago Tennis Festival, which began in August.
He adds, “The face of women’s tennis continues to become more diverse and the venues, vendors, and organizers should also start to become more diverse.”
Murray has been integral to such diversity in the sport. He coached Sloane Stephens to the U.S. Open title in 2017 and he’s presently a commentator for the Tennis Channel. But before hosting the inaugural event this year on the South Side of Chicago, he brought to the city the XS Tennis Village in the Washington Park neighborhood.
The $16.9 million facility, which opened in the city after he coached Stephens to her U.S. Open win in 2017, is over 13 acres, with 15 outdoor courts and 12 indoor courts. Murray uses it to coach students through the XS Tennis and Education Foundation for underserved youth. Around 3,000 get to play the sport and are provided a pathway to college. The Foundation has given out nearly 50 tennis scholarships, sending youth to Division I schools, and The Chicago Tennis Classic will help the Foundation in its mission.
XS is also where the tournament is being held. It’s brought in a major group of top-ranked and celebrated players like Madison Keys, Elina Svitolina, Bianca Andreescu and of course, Stephens. It’s showing people, both those coming into Chicago and those who live there, something different.
“Chicago is the fourth largest city in the U.S. and has a major airport with direct flights to international locations where a lot of the players come from. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the South Side to the world and change the narrative,” he says.
As the tournament concludes this weekend, reaching thousands of fans in the city, Kamau is happy to be shaking things up within the sport and opening doors for people who look like him, whether they play tennis or not.
“Going to the struggle of breaking barriers especially in tennis is hard and stressful, and quite frankly not worth doing for your own success,” he says. “These types of barriers are only worth fighting for, for generations of people to come. Tennis needs diversity not only in the form of players, but suppliers, promoters, agents, and vendors. As the number of minorities increase, the supplier and vendor base should also shift as well. But that only happens when minorities are in a position to make the decision.”