Tennis Bounces Back
2 Nov, 2020By: Peter Francesconi
The Ultimate Physical Distancing Sport is Already Hosting Tournaments
When sports all but shut down this past spring due to the coronavirus, tennis bounced back faster than most, as players realized that the physical distancing inherent in the sport was just what was needed to stay safe. Additionally, the U.S. Tennis Association and other groups were diligent about promoting guidelines for safe play. Parent, eager for activities for their home-bound kids, snapped up tennis equipment for youngsters, according to sales data from the Tennis Industry Association.
As tennis tournaments throughout the country come back online, tournament owners and organizers are looking for key locations to place their events.
“The cool thing about tennis in Boise,” says Brandon Fudge, the sports sales manager for the Boise CVB, “is that anywhere you go, in any park, you’ll find multiple tennis courts. For a tournament, it lends a nice city-wide feel.”
The city has 10 parks, each with at least four courts, including the six courts in Julia Davis Park and the six lighted courts at Fort Boise. (And there are an equal number of parks with two courts available.)
“In Boise, we have to be on the higher end when it comes to tennis courts per capita,” says Fudge. “We have a big tennis community here, so there’s a lot of support for the sport. Plus, outside of winter, it’s great tennis weather here.”
In addition to the public facilities, the Boise Racquet & Swim Club offers 23 total courts (12 indoor hard courts, nine outdoor hard courts and two outdoor clay courts). There’s also the privately-owned Eagle Tennis Club, with 12 indoor courts (and a floating mezzanine providing exceptional viewing), which hosts tennis tournaments and works with the CVB on events, too.
The Conway Tennis Center opened in April 2018, with eight lighted outdoor hard courts arranged in four banks of two, with pavilions and viewing areas in the center of the complex. The local, and very active, Conway Area Tennis Association (CATA) regularly hosts events at the center, although due to the coronavirus pandemic, activities had been curtailed for the first half of 2020, including an annual tournament normally set for April. But junior and adult events have been returning to the center in recent months.
CATA is a registered, nonprofit Community Tennis Association affiliated with the U.S. Tennis Association and is composed of volunteers who help advocate for tennis. The group pushed hard for the city to build Conway Tennis Center, which is run by the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. CATA hosts USTA sanctioned events at the center.
“Before this facility was built, there wasn’t a big place where the public could play tennis in Conway,” says Rachel Shaw, the executive director of the Conway CVB. “We do have three colleges in town, and two of them — the University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College — both have tennis facilities, so if there is an instance where we need to use their courts for tournaments or events, we can work with them.”
Conway, known as the “City of Colleges,” is located along I-40 about 30 miles north of Little Rock, offering the charm of a small town with the amenities of a larger city, with restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets, and more than 1,200 hotel rooms. UCA and Hendrix, along with Central Baptist College, contribute to the city’s strong arts and cultural scene.
This past summer, Edmond Center Court opened in partnership with the City of Edmond, which bought the 23 acres, and Edmond Public Schools, which coordinated construction. The $14 million facility features 24 lighted outdoor hard tennis courts and six indoor and has a top-notch staff led by industry veteran David Minihan, who has won awards for his devotion to the sport and for facilities he’s managed.
The Edmond Center Court facility replaced the very active Kickingbird Tennis Center, which had 14 courts and hosted numerous events in the past. Among ECC’s features are two stadium courts, complete with spectator seating, and a state-of-the-art 31,000-square-foot clubhouse with a pro shop and multiple lounge areas. The three high schools currently in Edmond all use ECC for their tennis teams.
Craig Dishman, the director of Parks & Recreation for the City of Edmond, says the city works with the USTA and Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) to bring events to the facility.
“We’ve had several USTA tournaments at different levels in Edmond, and have several that will be coming to ECC,” says Dishman. In October, the facility hosted an ITA Tour Fall Circuit event, which offered $3,000 in prize money.
Florida’s Sports Coast
A few years ago, Pasco County, which is just north of Tampa, rebranded as Florida’s Sports Coast, aiming to capitalize on the area’s sports facilities, water activities on the Gulf Coast and outdoor adventure offerings.
On the racquet sports front, the area is drawing plenty of attention with the recent opening of Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center, a 10-acre world-class facility in the city of Zephyrhills that is the product of a public-private partnership.
The SVB center, which officially opened in mid-October, has 11 outdoor tennis courts with LED lighting, which include eight Har-Tru courts, two hard courts and a stadium court that can seat up to 3,700 people. The center will host a $25,000 women’s pro tennis event in January, and other groups are looking to hold events at the SVB center in 2021, too.
“We’re also getting an indoor facility with four tennis courts,” says Pascal Collard, CEO and president of Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center.
The center also has eight permanent pickleball courts, and Collard says he and his team are looking into adding possibly another 15 pickleball courts. In December, adds Collard, the SVB center will host 300 pickleball players for a four-day event.
Also setting the SVB center apart is its four padel courts. Padel is a racquet sport played on an enclosed court about a third the size of a tennis court, and the ball can be played off the walls. Extremely popular in Spain, padel has slowly been making inroads into the U.S. market. With its four padel courts, SVB is able to host world tour events. Plus, the center’s acting padel director is internationally recognized pro Marcos del Pilar, who handles padel pro certification worldwide.
Florida’s Sports Coast also is home to Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, well-known for its 45 tennis courts that include all Grand Slam surfaces—hard, clay and grass — and exceptional programs. The new Wiregrass Sports Campus of Pasco County recently opened and also includes 16 pickleball courts. The county also has a number of parks with multiple tennis courts.
Scottsdale has been a major hotspot for tennis for decades. Two of the premier facilities for tennis tournaments and events are the Scottsdale Ranch Park & Tennis Center, with 18 newly renovated tennis courts (all with new LED lighting), and the Indian School Park Tennis Center, with 13 lighted tennis courts.
“We work closely with USTA, and we have quite a few tournaments that use our facilities,” says Denise Clayton, the recreation manager for the City of Scottsdale Parks & Recreation. During closures forced by COVID-19 this past spring and summer, the city took advantage of the downtime to renovate both facilities. “By the end of 2020, we’ll have completed a total rebuild at Indian School Park. It will be top-notch.”
Both facilities have hosted local, sectional and national tournaments, along with college and ITA events. Some of the bigger events bring in as many as 200 players from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and other states.
Scottsdale Ranch Park Tennis Center has been named a USTA Outstanding Public Tennis Facility and offers a solid menu of tennis programming. Off the court, the park has sand volleyball, basketball, baseball fields, exercise course stations, a playground, Desert Garden and more. Likewise, the 50-acre Indian School Park offers many other activities when not on the tennis court, including a playground, sand volleyball, horseshoe pit, shuffleboard, bocce courts and more, all lighted.
Snohomish County, Washington
Back in February 2020, Everett, Washington, scored a major coup when it hosted the Fed Cup tennis competition (now called the Billie Jean King Cup) at Angel of the Winds Arena — the first time the international women’s team event has come to Washington State. The sold-out two-day event featured U.S. stars Serena Williams, Coco Gauff, Sofia Kenin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alison Riske, who beat the team from Latvia to gain the Fed Cup final (which has been postponed for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic).
“We basically had the best of the best at Angel of the Winds Arena,” says Tammy Dunn, executive director of the Snohomish County Sports Commission. “It allowed us to showcase our arena, which allows us to host international competitions and spectator events. But not only that — the sold-out crowd showcases the strong tennis community here in the Pacific Northwest region.”
That, in turn, is leading the sports commission to focus more on tennis competitions for adults and juniors, submitting bids to the USTA Pacific Northwest section for the opportunity to host championship tournaments. “We’d like to use our indoor clubs to host some of these sectional tournaments,” Dunn adds. For instance, the Columbia Athletic Club has six indoor (and three outdoor) courts, Harbor Square Athletic Club has eight indoor (and two outdoor) courts, and Mill Creek Tennis Club offers three indoor (and two outdoor) courts.
The 17 high schools in the county also have boys’ and girls’ tennis programs, and many have six to eight outdoor tennis courts available. (Snohomish High School annually hosts a large tournament for boys and girls, which had to be canceled this year.) Plus, parks throughout the county offer tennis courts too.
The award-winning Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex has been a mainstay for tennis in the the Southwest since it opened in 2007, winning Racquet Sports Industry’s Municipal Facility of the Year honor in 2008. The facility, which has 25 hard tennis courts (and 16 permanent pickleball courts), is managed by the Surprise Parks & Recreation Department and is always in top shape.
“All our sports facilities are maintained at world-class standards, including the Tennis & Racquet Complex,” says Bill Lucero, who manages the facility. “We devote staff and resources to keeping everything bright, clean and consistent, and we resurface all the courts every few years. As a public facility, this is one of our gemstones here in the City of Surprise.”
The Tennis & Racquet Complex, about a 40-minute drive from the Phoenix airport, is a premier location for tournaments and events. (The largest event held at the facility was a 65-and-over national invitational, which brought in 680 players over one weekend.) There are three standalone courts, including a stadium court, and all the other courts are set up in banks of two, with generous viewing areas alongside every court.
“You are literally courtside watching matches with your kids. There are no rows of courts,” Lucero says. “The first time we hosted the NCAA Division II Championships, the coaches were amazed that they could be right there near their players. It’s such a great setup for coaches, spectators and players.”
The Surprise complex hosts many USTA events, along with ITA, PacWest and NCAA tournaments. In May, it will host the NCAA Division II National Championships for men and women. “We can run four dual matches at a time,” Lucero notes. “It’s a nice blessing to have the number of courts that we have.” SDM