The history of 'The Ojai' and tennis in the Ojai Valley dates back to 1887 when Sherman Day Thacher came to Ojai, California to become a farmer and grow citrus. After building his stone house on 160 acres of land in the East End of the valley, he soon learned that he would require some financial assistance to survive, and so he began tutoring students on the ranch, then called Casa de Piedra. In 1892, the first tennis court in the Valley was built on Thacher school grounds. The first tennis tournament in Ojai was held on that court in 1893.
As part of his involvement with the town, then called Nordhoff, Sherman Thacher assisted in founding the Ojai Athletic Club in 1894, and the next year, William Thacher decided to form a club devoted to tennis, and so the Ojai Valley Tennis Club was born. The club quickly began to sponsor competition, and in 1896, the Ojai Valley Tennis Club absorbed the Athletic Club with William Thacher as President.
In 1899, the tournament adopted the single elimination singles and doubles matches to the growing tournament. Attendance was almost 700 over the weekend of the finals, and the town held a reception and dance for the players. Many consider this the first OjaiÂ®.
The turn of the century brought other developments to the tournament. Tea service was introduced, and the clubhouse was built that year, remaining on site until 1966. The tournament lasted three days, offered expanded categories, and had entry fees of $.50. Players traveling to the Valley stayed with local residents, which tradition continues today.
The tournament returned in 1925, and grew and prospered over the following years. Complimentary orange juice, a product of the Valley, was first offered to players and spectators in the early 1930s, which continues today. As the tournament grew, its reputation spread, drawing players from all over the West. In 1942, with World War II in full fury, the tournament was cancelled, not to return until 1947. Once re-established, the tournament re-staked its claim to the last full weekend in April, offering its competition on the town's public courts and whatever other courts could be secured in the Valley and northern Ventura County. Last year, over 105 courts were volunteered to be used by competitors.
Many of the greats of tennis have played in Ojai and at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, including Bill Tilden, Tony Trabert, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Arthur Ashe, Billy Jean King, Pancho Gonzales, Alex Olmedo, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, Tracy Austin, Michael Chang, Lindsay Davenport, Pete Sampras, Sam Querey, and the Bryan twins. The "Wall of Fame" at the grandstand in Libbey Park names over 85 players who competed at Ojai, and won one or more of the major championships which make up the tennis "Grand Slam."
"The OJAI" tennis tournament is the oldest continuous running tennis tournament in the USA. Over 1,500 participants and 500 volunteers make this giant event possible. It is supported by the entire enthusiastic community and several large and many smaller sponsors. "The OJAI" has a very important secondary goal which is to stimulate tennis among the Ojai Valley youth, and to this effect it organizes and sponsors many youth tennis activities. No wonder that the City of Ojai entered into the "Best Tennis Town" competition sponsored by the USTA.
The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is the host site for the Men's and Women's "Open" Singles and Doubles Championships. The tournament is always held during the last full week in April of each year. Make your reservations early for this tournament. Court time for guests is very limited during those days.