UPDATE 1-Tennis-Oracle announces new lower-tier professional circuit in U.S.

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NEW YORK, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Oracle has launched a new lower-tier tennis circuit of men's and women's tournaments in the United States aimed at helping professionals find more playing opportunities on the ATP and WTA Tours, the computer technology company said on Wednesday.

The Oracle Pro Series will be held across the U.S. over 2019 and 2020 with men's and women's tournaments offering equal prize money from $25,000 to $108,000, as well as ranking points.

The 2019 season -- featuring six combined men's and women's tournaments -- will begin in Los Angeles on Oct. 6. The schedule for 2020 will include more than 20 tournaments and their locations will be announced later this year.

Oracle is partnering with InsideOut Sports & Entertainment led by former world number one Jim Courier and his business partner Jon Venison to manage the series.

"This is a big day for American tennis," Florida native Courier told Reuters on the sidelines of the U.S. Open.

"It bridges that gap between college tennis and the next level before you get to the big leagues, giving American-based players an opportunity to stay home and move up the pathway to the top 100."

He said that while the goal is to help American players, anyone in the world is welcome to compete.

"They are ATP and WTA events so there's no exclusionary aspect to it," he said.

"But it levels the playing field for our players here to their European counterparts, who can stay near or at home and play tournaments around the clock as they try to get to the next level."

He said Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who played college tennis at Baylor University in the 1970s, was the driving force behind the new circuit.

"He has been pushing American tennis on a few different levels for some time and this is a continuation of Mark's vision to help bolster American tennis and change the landscape."

The California-based company has invested in college tennis as well as the Oracle Challenger Series, while Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison owns the Indian Wells Masters. (Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru and Rory Carroll in New York; Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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