Christina Fawcett cooks a mean flank steak.
Nobody knows that better than her son Tom does.
“I love eating my mom’s steak the night before a tennis match,” Tom Fawcett, a recent Stanford University graduate, says.
Maybe the 2014 New Trier graduate likes his steak well-done.
What’s rare, away from the dinner table, is this: Fawcett playing highly competitive and highly entertaining tennis in front of family and friends. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder with a huge serve will do that as a main-draw wild card entrant at the ATP Challenger Tour stop in Winnetka, a professional event (July 7-14) at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center.
“I’ve been playing on the road practically my entire life,” says Fawcett, a three-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American at Stanford. “The Challenger is a unique tournament for me, a chance to sleep in a familiar bed in between matches, eat good food at home and hear more people than usual support me while I compete.
“I’m hoping some of my buddies show up and get a little rowdy.”
The ATP Challenger Tour is a series of international men’s professional tennis tournaments for up-and-coming stars — and, occasionally, former established stars — competing for cash prizes and ATP points. Think Triple-A in baseball, the level just below Major League Baseball. Triple-A ballplayers want to sip coffee in The Show someday; Challenger Tour players want to sip water, courtside, next to Roger Federer someday. Or Rafael Nadal. The Winnetka stop is a $75,000 event. Qualifying matches begin July 7; main-draw action starts July 9.
John McEnroe slapped winners in Winnetka. Pete Sampras cracked serves in Winnetka. The pair won a combined 21 Grand Slam singles championships. Eventual two-time Grand Slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt hustled for ATP points in Winnetka. So did former Northwestern University star Todd Martin. So did Jack Sock, the 2013 winner who finished the 2017 ATP season ranked No. 8 in the world in singles.
Last year’s U.S. Open singles runner-up, Kevin Anderson? Yet another former Winnetka Challenger entrant.
“It’s a great chance to watch great tennis in our back yard,” says A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center staff professional Mike Friedman, a 1984 Highland Park High School graduate who netted Division III All-America honors at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. “It’s nice what the tournament organizers do each year, awarding wild-card berths to outstanding former area high school and Northwestern players. Tennis clubs from the city and the suburbs are organizing to bring groups to watch some of the matches. I’m sure you’ll see [New Trier girls tennis coach and longtime teaching pro] Jerry Morse-Karzen and other pro instructors accompanying groups and enjoying the tennis together.
“The level of tennis will be a wonderful thing to witness,” he adds.
Cyprus native Marcos Baghdatis — currently ranked No. 83 in the world in singles, the 2006 Australian Open singles runner-up and a 2006 Wimbledon semifinalist — will serve ’em up at this year’s Challenger in Winnetka as long as he doesn’t advance to the second week of action at a certain fortnight tournament across the pond, the one with the dress code, the one where cream-drenched strawberries outnumber tennis balls, the one called … Wimbledon. You might have heard of it.
People in Wyoming might be able to hear the THWAP of a Tom Fawcett serve in Winnetka this month. His delivery is that powerful, that resounding. Fawcett opted to no longer play high school tennis for New Trier after teaming with Drew Campbell to place runner-up in doubles at the 2011 Illinois High School Association state meet. He was a freshman then. Four years later he earned the No. 1 singles position at Stanford and pounded shots against No. 1s for the rest of his collegiate career. An NCAA Tournament singles semifinalist as a junior in 2017, Fawcett, a captain in ’18, achieved a season-high ITA singles ranking of No. 9 this past spring and finished at No. 13.
His final Cardinal squad went 22-4 — the program’s best season in 15 years.
Fawcett chose San Diego to serve as his training base. Christian Groh coaches the four-time First Team All-PAC-12 netter.
“Not working on anything technical right now,” says Fawcett, whose appearance in the 2018 Winnetka Challenger will be his fourth overall, third as a main-draw wild card entrant. “I’m working on figuring out the right tactics to use to win points efficiently. My fitness, too. Working really hard on that. To make a run in pro tournaments, you have to be physically fit. Fitness is a big priority. Staying healthy is a big priority.”
Fawcett plans to play in several other ATP Challenger Tour events this summer, including a pair in Canada. The hope, the serious plan, is to peak in New York at the end of the U.S. Open qualifying rounds in late August.
“I’m looking forward to playing near my home again this summer,” Fawcett says. “Being able to play, with my family watching, with my good friends watching, means a lot to me.”
Had he not received a wild card and if he happened to be in town July 7-14, Fawcett would certainly clear his calendar in order to check out the hyper-competitive rallies at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center.
“There will be high-quality tennis on every court, with many of the spectators sitting only 15 or 20 feet from the court,” Fawcett says. “It will be cool for many, an eye-opening experience.”
Tickets for the Winnetka Challenger main-draw matches range from $20-$30, depending on the session. Net proceeds benefit the North Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA), an intergovernmental partnership in the northern suburban area of Chicago that provides and facilitates year-round recreation programs and services for children and adults with disabilities.
For more information about the ATP Challenger Tour stop (July 7-14) in Winnetka, please visit nielsenprotennis.org. All matches will be played outdoors at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center, 530 Hibbard Road, Winnetka.