Note: For the fifth year in a row, I am serving as Chief Tournament Physician of the Family Circle Cup. Each day of the tournament, I am writing an article for The Post and Courier and Family Circle Cup.
Today the city of Charleston celebrates its winning the title of “Best Tennis Town in America” with festivities at the Family Circle Cup. In August, Charleston beat out cities all over the United States, including Atlanta and Richmond, who finished second and third respectively. With the title also comes $100,000, which will be used to upgrade tennis facilities and develop tennis programs in the Lowcountry.
This week Charleston is the center of the professional tennis world, with the top women competing in the Family Circle Cup. I think that everyone knows about the tournament and its facilities, which are among the best in the country. I expect that most casual fans and non-tennis fans do not realize how extensive Charleston’s tennis presence is.
The heart and soul of tennis in the area seems to be the recreational and club teams and leagues. Over 12,000 tennis athletes in the Lowcountry play on over 800 teams. The Charleston Area Ladies Tennis Association is comprised of 800 women who play weekly in a fun, social atmosphere. And from a more competitive standpoint, the Charleston Pro Tennis League features club pros and former collegiate players.
The city has used its professional and recreational tennis offerings to attract tennis players from around the world. Kiawah and Wild Dunes were voted numbers 1 and 2 in the top tennis destinations in the world. In addition, over 40 adult and junior tournaments are held here each year, bringing over 10,000 USTA members to our city every year.
Another potential product of the “Best Tennis Town in America” award that is sure to attract visitors from outside of Charleston but also casual and dedicated tennis fans here is the announcement that Charleston will host the World Team Tennis finals in July. The World Team Tennis Pro League features nine teams from around the country and top tennis stars, such as the Venus and Serena Williams, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras. This will be only the second year that a city without a WTT team has hosted the finals.
As with any sport, the key to long-term growth and success is the youth, and Charleston has worked tirelessly to develop programs to encourage tennis among young kids. The city has embraced the USTA’s 10 and Under Tennis to build courts for young children and worked to bring tennis to inner-city Charleston youth. It has even hosted the Arthur Ashe-inspired Citizens of the World event to attract newcomers to the sport of tennis.
I discussed the award with Rob Eppelsheimer, the Director of Facilities and Tennis Development at the Family Circle Tennis Center. He says that the prize money from the award has already been allocated to the school districts of Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties, the cities of Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and North Charleston, and St. Andrews, as well as the Lowcountry Tennis Association. It is designated to develop the 10 and Under program of the USTA here. We are building courts specifically for kids 8 and under and 10 and under. The program uses the Quick Start approach, with lower compression balls that bounce lower and are easier for young children to hit. The goal is to teach proper mechanics and skills at an earlier age. Hopefully over the years we will see a resurgence of American stars in men’s and women’s professional tennis.
The real value of this title and its financial award, in my opinion, lies in the potential reciprocal nature of how it can help tennis grow. By kickstarting youth initiatives, we can grow the numbers of young athletes playing, who will ultimately go on and play high school, college, or even professional tennis, and later in leagues here as adults. Plus it will boost enthusiasm among fans for events, like the World Team Tennis finals, to come here. As the tennis community continues to grow, and support of the sport grows, more opportunities could develop, such as the Davis Cup, Federation Cup, a men’s tournament, or a World Team Tennis team. Those events bring money to the city that can be put back into the youth programs. The title “Best Tennis Town in America” is really a victory for everyone in Charleston.
Read my daily posts from the 2011 Family Circle Cup!
Day 1: Tennis players among world’s elite athletes
Day 2: Do our clay courts decrease injuries?
Day 3: What’s on the menu for pro tennis players?
Day 5: Wind hurts more than players’ games
Day 6: Is kinesio taping hype or helpful?
Day 7: The sun can be dangerous for tennis players
Athletes must take meds, supplements with caution
Day 9: Medical aspects of professional tennis