After nearly four decades of anything, things are always certain to experience changes. But when it comes to The James E. Cryan Memorial Tennis Tournament in New Jersey, even after 50 years, one thing remains a constant: It’s still one of the best atmospheres around.
The Cryan Tournament, which began in 1965, features some of the richest, strongest roots in Middle States tennis. These days it’s also one of the most anticipated and highly-regarded tournaments in the area, with players and fans from all over the northeast making the trip to catch the action.
As the years move on, the tournament continues to become stronger and build even more history. Each year the draw seems to increase in size and the fan presence picks up even more. Most involved don’t know all the history, but they can certainly feel part of it as they move from court to court.
Just ask Marc Vecchiolla, who has been involved with the Cryan Tournament for the past 31 years – both as a player and an organizer.
“I was a ball boy in this tournament in 1982,” Vecchiolla said from his office at the Mercer County Park Tennis Facility. “I’ve played in it, watched it from the outside – basically done it all. And in three decades of these tournaments, all I can say is I love it and truly appreciate it.”
The Cryan Tournament began nearly 50 years ago after James E. Cryan, just 42 years old at the time, passed away from Hodgkin’s disease in 1964. At that point, Jim Cryan – James’ son – was only 6.
The tournament began at Trenton’s Cadwalader Park and moved to Mercer County Park in 1981. The tournament has been held at Mercer County Park every summer since and has evolved into one of the community’s most popular events.
“It’s certainly been a fantastic experience for me,” said Jim Cryan, who along with Virginia Amstrong Whyte has served as the tournament’s co-director for the past decade. “It’s been an important part of my life, really. As a kid, it helped me learn more about my father by talking to his friends and those who knew him. And seeing its growth over the years has been so great to see. Having my father’s name on it for all this time, with the reputation the tournament has, is something special.”
The reputation continues to strengthen as the tournament builds upon its previous successes each year. Every summer, pros from local clubs, former standout college players and more enter the draw and play the eight-day event. Hundreds of locals each day line the courts in a US Open-like setup that features matches on several courts.
“It’s kind of a mom-and-pop tournament that becomes so much bigger because of the people and the area,” Vecchiolla said. “We’re already looking forward to it.”
The matches often run very late, and these days, during the tournament nights, Vecchiolla may stay at the facility until 3 a.m. and be back in the office the next morning. As the Director of Tennis Operations, he’s involved with nearly every aspect of the tournament from start to finish, so he always feels the need to be there until the final match wraps up.
Even on the late nights, it’s worth every minute.
“All week long, you walk from bay to bay and all of the fences are lined with spectators,” Vecchiolla said. “It really is like the US Open of Mercer County. You’ll see managers of other clubs in the area watching, or pros from other leagues. Once in a while we get someone from states away. From year to year you might get some players with world rankings.”
While their appearances may be rare, world-ranked players can find plenty of reasons to play at the Cryan Tournament. Aside from the fact that the competition is strong, they have a chance to earn publicity and, in a time when they often feel underappreciated, become stars for a week.
“When players get the a taste of it, they’ll almost always come back again,” Vecchiolla said. “It’s really a great place to showcase their talents. At a bigger tournament, someone might think of themselves as ‘just another player,’ but here, even at No. 450 in the world, you’re a superstar for the week.”
“We have a pretty vibrant tennis community,” Jim Cryan added. “In a way, this shows it off.”
This year the tournament will run from July 27 through Aug. 3. The deadline to register is July 21. Draws will include various levels of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles. More information can be found at http://www.cryantennis.com.