The ITA National Fall Championships being the grand finale to the fall collegiate tennis season, features 64 of the nation’s top collegiate singles players (32 men/32 women) and 64 doubles teams (32 men’s/32 women’s).
The event has evolved from indoors, including when it was held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., to an outdoor tournament. Having replaced the ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, the move outdoors occurred in 2017 when the Oracle ITA Fall National Championships was staged at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif. and the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, Calif. In 2018, the tournament changed locations to the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in Surprise, Ariz. before settling in at the Barnes Tennis Center in 2021.
With the long-standing history of the final fall tournament, Hall of Famers have graced the tournament from the beginning. Today, we feature the 1980 ITA Men’s National Fall Championships, then the ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, singles champion Mel Purcell.
Considered one of the greatest players to ever come out of the state of Kentucky, Mel Purcell first attended the University of Memphis, where he won the Metro Conference singles and doubles titles in 1977. Following his time at Memphis, Purcell transferred to the University of Tennessee, where he became an All-American in 1980, captured two SEC titles and won the 1980 ITA Men’s National Fall singles title, defeating Princeton’s Jay Lapidus 7-5, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. While at Tennessee, Purcell would also capture the NCAA doubles championship title in 1980 with partner Rodney Harmon. During his time with the Vols, Purcell rose to the No. 1 ranking of players under 21 in the world.
Following his time at the collegiate level, Purcell took his talents to the professional tour, climbing into the top 40 in the world and becoming the ATP Rookie of the Year in 1981. With wins over former world number ones such as Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe, Purcell would reach a career high ranking of No. 17 in 1980. Other career highlights would include reaching both the Wimbledon singles quarterfinals and French Open doubles quarterfinals in 1983.
Once retired from the tour, Purcell became the head coach of the Murray State men’s tennis team in 1996. While at the helm of the Racers, Purcell guided the team to back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference championships in 2001 and 2002, securing the Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year for both seasons. When the men’s tennis program was discontinued in 2016, Purcell transitioned to the position of Director of Tennis Emeritus.
Purcell was inducted into the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.
About the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s and Women’s Halls of Fame aspire to preserve and celebrate the history and further the development of intercollegiate tennis through the collection of historic memorabilia and with inductions of notable players, coaches, and contributors.