SOUTHINGTON – In 2007, Matt Wayton got a bunch of friends together to play a few games of tennis, and the rest is history.
“[Southington] was a big and up and coming community, a lot of tennis players,” Wayton said. “I knew my friends were getting into tennis when we were finishing up high school. I always liked running and organizing things so I thought ‘Hey, why not?’”
The Wayton Open, which begins on Saturday, started as a one division, one day tournament with no more than 25 players.
It is now entering its 11th year and has more than seven times the entries.
“Our first year there was no sponsors, T-shirts or trophies,” the founder and tournament director Wayton said. “We played at Rec Park. I think the champions on that day, the championship match was their fourth match on that one day.”
This year’s tournament will have 180 entries across eight divisions, including men’s and women’s singles, high school boys singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
The men’s singles and doubles divisions are divided into two groups each, an A and a B group.
“Since 2007 its really grown and expanded,” Wayton said. “It has developed into a 10-day sometimes 12-division tournament with a couple hundred people coming out, a bunch of spectators, T-shirts, trophies, marketing, web sites and a social media presence. It’s just really grown and expanded into a legitimate community event every summer.”
The 2018 Wayton Open will return three of its defending champions. Women’s singles winner Ellie Doolittle is returning as well as high school boys singles winner Nick Cristante.
However, the biggest names coming back are the 4-time Men’s Doubles champions, Eric Henne and Mark Habek.
The return of these winners has helped the Wayton Open reach its third or fourth highest attendance in its 11-year history, according to Wayton.
“We have our core people,” Wayton said. “People come from all over the state now, it’s not just Southington. It’s a real state wide tournament.”
All of the tournaments proceeds will be donated to the charity to Thank Dog Rescue, which is dedicated to finding homes and shelters for all breeds of abandoned dogs.
It’s a cause that hits close to home for Wayton and his family.
“I’m really proud that were able to be completely charitable,” Wayton said. “All proceeds go to Thank Dog Rescue.”
“[My family and I] have always been passionate about animals, dogs and dog’s welfare,” Wayton said. “We thought that there’s so many dogs in need, an endless amount of dogs in need, so we felt like we could make some kind of difference with all of the rescues just in Connecticut alone.”
In addition to donating all of the money to help these dogs in need, Wayton has set up an adoption event that will take place during the opening round on Saturday.
“What I’m looking forward to this year especially is in the first day of the tournament we have a dog adoption event on site,” Wayton said. “We have six confirmed rescue groups coming to the event with dogs and they’re going to set up tents. It’s going to be a cool thing.”
The Open will run from July 7-15 and is expected to bring in many spectators to see the action.
“A lot of people know each other, it’s like a homecoming of sorts, even for people who didn’t live in Southington,” Wayton said. “We’ve been playing this tournament for so long, people from out of town just feel like members of the community at this point.”
Since the tournament is always held during the second week in July, warm weather is usually ‘par for the course,’ according to Wayton. But this year looks like it could be different.
“The players are going to get lucky this year,” Wayton said jokingly. “We had our heat wave already, so they’re going to get a reprieve. It’s only going to be 80-something.”
Wayton has turned his and others love for tennis into a tournament that allows people from across the state stay active playing a sport that they love.
“The [Wayton Open] just has a community feel,” Wayton said. “It’s not corporate and we keep our prices low.”
The tournament kicks off with the first mixed doubles matches will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday at Southington High School.