Two years ago, John Dix was one strong surge away from capturing what would have been his first Big Al's Tennis Tournament men's open singles championship.

Two years ago, John Dix was one strong surge away from capturing what would have been his first Big Al's Tennis Tournament men's open singles championship. Then, Wil Cochrane stormed back to take the second set before rolling in the third to claim his second straight title, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

This year, Dix will have a golden opportunity to make up for that setback — so long as he can take the heat.

Dix will be the No. 1 seed in the five-man men's open singles bracket when the 39th annual Big Al's Tennis Tournament begins today. The tournament will be played at Hunter Park, Ashland Tennis & Fitness Club and the Southern Oregon University courts in Ashland, and wraps up with semifinal and championship matches on Sunday.

Dix, 36, of Ashland, was at his counter-punching best when he won the first set and deadlocked the hard-hitting Cochrane 4-4 in the second before the tide turned. Now, Dix will be the top-seeded player in a field that also includes No. 2-seeded Douglass Neuman, also of Ashland. Dix will play the winner of the Adam Stamper-Guy Tauer quarterfinal match in the semifinals Sunday morning. The championship match will take place immediately after, with a scheduled start time of 10 a.m.

Last year's champion, Leo Young, is nursing an injury and will not be able to defend his title.

Elizabeth Ames of Redding, Calif., is the top seed in the women's 4.0 singles bracket, the highest-level women's singles division this year, and Barbara Bailey of Ashland is the No. 2 seed.

Evan Schleining of Medford and Ari Zaslow of Ashland make up the top-seeded team in the three-team men's open doubles bracket, which will be played out via a round robin format. Schleining and Zaslow are former Ashland High teammates.

Usually, the men's open singles semifinal matches are played Saturday, but with 30 late entrants and less courts available due to SOU construction, Big Al's director Kelly Baker said the tournament is at full capacity and must employ a stacked Sunday schedule.

According to the tournament's website, 149 people signed up for Big Al's originally, one off the number that played last year. But the late, post-deadline rush brought that number to 179.

"We couldn't have taken more people; we are completely at capacity," Baker said. "We're really at a situation where we have more matches than we have court times now, so we're stacking matches on top of each other and hoping some get done quickly. It's a good problem to have."

The other problem, the intense heat that's in the forecast, does not qualify as a good problem, however. The forecast calls for a high temperature of 91 degrees today, 92 on Saturday and 90 on Sunday — not the high-90s to triple-digits Ashland has experienced in recent weeks, but still very hot.

Baker said tournament officials will do what they can to help participants cope with the heat, including providing water stations, ice and food trucks with cold beverages.

"It's just one of those things where you have to really watch people," Baker said, "just be real cognisant of who you're putting on the court and keeping an eye on them."

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or by email at