The Yarmouth Clam Festival has built up a significant history, one that includes mainstays such as the Firefighters Muster, the Diaper Derby and, of course, lobster rolls, lime rickeys and the signature fried clams.

The festival also has a sporting side, with a road race, a bike race and, perhaps most notably, Maine’s premier summer tennis tournament.

The Betty Blakeman Memorial celebrates its 21st anniversary this weekend and has a few mainstays of its own. Brian Powell playing on Sunday is one of them. He’s been in the men’s singles final nine of the past 10 years, and won seven times.

This year may be his biggest challenge, however, and not simply because Powell, a Kennebunkport resident and former Wake Forest standout, turned 40 last October.

Mike Hill of Topsham, coming off his freshman season at Brown University, is the defending champion, having beaten Powell 6-4, 6-3 last July. The likely second seed in a men’s field approaching 100 players isn’t Powell, however, but newcomer Ben Cox, a former University of Michigan standout who recently became the head pro at Portland Country Club.

Cox, 30, spends most of his year in Orchid Island, Fla. He is a pro at a club in nearby Vero Beach.

Last month, Cox won the first event on the Maine Tennis Association summer calendar, the A&J Open in South Portland, without losing more than one game in a set over five matches. At the MTA Championships last weekend in Portland, Cox teamed with a Florida teenager he coaches and reached the men’s doubles finals before losing in three sets to Powell and partner Brian Mavor.

“It was a very tough match,” Powell said of the 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory. “We were kind of fortunate to get through.”

Powell and Mavor, each with seven individual Blakeman titles since 1996, never did break Cox’s serve. Powell recalls only one break point, and Cox blasted a service winner.

“You can tell he’d be a very good singles player,” Powell said. “The pace on his serve is something you don’t see around here at all.”

Mavor estimated Cox’s serve at upwards of 130 mph.

“He hits a really heavy ball,” said Mavor, 46, a Yarmouth resident who grew up in Cape Elizabeth and played tennis at North Carolina State.

Hill, who mostly played No. 3 at Brown, took a month off after his spring season because of tendinitis in his hips. He’s been teaching and training in Brunswick.

“I don’t have anything to prove,” Hill said. “I’m not looking to go there and beat anybody. I just think it’s a fun tournament.”

Cox worked in Prouts Neck for the past two summers. This is his first year at Portland Country Club.

“I’ve heard it’s the biggest tournament around and attracts the best players,” Cox said of the Blakeman. “I met Eric Blakeman a few times. He’s a nice guy, and it all goes to a great cause.”

Eric is Betty’s son. He and his sister, Carrie Davenport, help organize the annual event, which has become a significant fundraiser in the fight against cancer. This year’s beneficiary, the Cancer Community Center of South Portland, will receive upwards of $10,000.

“Last year was our first year working with them,” said Eric Blakeman, a four-time state high school champion, who went on to play at Northwestern. “It was such a great experience that we decided not to look anywhere else.”

Betty Blakeman died of breast cancer in 1989. This year’s event is dedicated to Juli Chicoine, whose husband Ron coaches the tennis programs at the University of Southern Maine and Lewiston High. She died this spring after suffering a cerebral aneurysm.

“Ron and Juli always supported it,” Blakeman said of the tournament. “Not only monetarily, but with their physical presence. They really engulfed the spirit of the event, which is a family event. We’re honored to have the tournament in her memory this year.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: gjordan@pressherald.com