The Tiburon Challenger returns after three year hiatus

Cole Seifer

The Tiburon Challenger, a professional men’s tennis tournament, has brought high-level tennis to Marin County since 2003 and this year was no different. Over the course of one week, some of the best up and coming tennis players, ages 17 to 30, compete in this tournament. Professional players became eligible for the Challenger based on their rankings. After fighting through the ranks of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), players are able to join the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Challenger Tour where they can play tournaments such as these. After the original COVID-19 shutdown in 2019, the Tiburon Peninsula Club (TPC) could not host the event until further notice. This year was the first year since 2019 that this tournament was played.


The tournament started on Sunday, Oct. 2, with the qualifying rounds. These rounds allowed players who weren’t a part of the main draw to have a shot at playing in the real tournament. Many of those who competed for the title this year came from overseas, which posed a challenge for the event staff. 

Gearing up for a forehand, Ben Shelton watches the ball intensely


Ukrainian tennis player and the number one seed out of the 32 players, Denis Kudla, spoke on why this tournament is one of his favorites to participate in. 

“I love Tiburon and I’ve been coming [to the Challenger] since 2012. We have some long grueling weeks in some tough places and Tiburon is not a tough place to be. The hospitality is really good, the people are friendly, [there’s] good scenery, good level of tennis, and I’ve played really well here for the most part,” Kudla said.

While the tournament doesn’t normally attract large names in the tennis world, Kudla explained how the levels of competition at the Challenger are still very high. 

“It’s hard to compare the talent level just because in tennis the margins are so small. Ranking wise, it’s a little bit of a smaller tournament so maybe it’s not the biggest names but I do think the level was really high. I think there’s a lot more younger guys coming up so the pressure was definitely there,” Kudla said.

The Tiburon Challenger has a large volunteer staff that works around the clock to make sure the tournament runs smoothly. The Head of Volunteers, Jane Colwell, explained why the volunteers are so impactful. 

“[My job is to] manage and help manage other volunteers to make sure they have everything they need for their position to run successfully. We have someone in charge of hospitality, one in charge of sponsors and one in charge of merchandise. This event, or any event really, couldn’t work without volunteers. There is no way any establishment has enough staff, so we really rely on people who love the sport and want to see these things happen,” Colwell said. 

While the tournament was a resounding success, there were several bumps and struggles. Event director, Adam Gagnon, mentioned the greatest uncertainties the Challenger team faced. 

Exploding up towards the ball, Ben Shelton fires a serve towards his opponent

“Estimating what the fans are going to do, how many will show up, what the players are going to do, do members want internationally traveling tennis players to come into their homes, are players going to be open to going in private housing, those were some of the big question marks,” Gagnon said. 

The event aims to create a strong environment for the large number of fans who come to watch the tournament each and every day. Gagnon made note about what makes the tournament special for its many spectators. 

“First and foremost, I really enjoy when my members have these wonderful experiences. I can see the excitement on their faces. They tell me how much fun they had [watching the tournament], and that’s probably the most enjoyable part for me, but watching amazing tennis is pretty good as well,” Gagnon said. 

Gagnon gave insight into the impact the Challenger had on the Marin community, as large events such as this have started to return. 

Prior to their match, doubles partners practice on the open courts


“I think TPC did a great job. We’ve been doing a good job at opening things up and I think that’s great but in my opinion this is the first event where everyone is back to normality. I haven’t uttered [COVID-19] this entire week, and that to me is a huge victory,” Gagnon said. 

In its first year since 2019, the Tiburon Challenger marked another successful tournament in its long standing history. Championed by nineteen year old Zachary Svajda, the talent level that is on display is unlike anything else a spectator could find in Marin. The event staff has worked night and day to provide a fun and rewarding experience for the players and the fans. While the tournament may only last one week, in that time, the Challenger brings some of the most exciting moments in sports to Marin.