After a 2 1/2 hour drive up from her tennis academy in Boca Raton, Florida, on Wednesday evening, Chris Evert and her brother John arrived at the U.S. Tennis Association’s gleaming new facility and were struck by the sheer size of it.
With 100 courts, a dormitory, a strength and conditioning center, a cafe and ample parking, the complex in the Lake Nona community dwarfs most other tennis academies, including Evert’s, which had been renting out space to the USTA for years.
The 64-acre, $63 million campus, which formally opened Thursday, was built to grow the game at the grass-roots level and to develop future Grand Slam champions, something U.S. tennis has been lacking beyond Serena and Venus Williams.
A child can learn how to hold a racket and begin playing the game on a smaller, 36-foot court. A top professional can prepare for the Australian Open on the same type of surface used in Melbourne.
The center will host recreational tournaments, including a 90-and-over tournament later this year; home matches for the University of Central Florida; and a gay and lesbian event.
If you plunk down $12 for an hour, you can play there, too. The facility is open to the public without membership and is said to be entirely accessible to players with disabilities.
“This is tennis heaven,” said Katrina Adams, the USTA’s president and a former tour professional.
There are three kinds of hard courts, green clay with a below-ground watering system, and six red clay courts that were built using 450 tons of iron-rich crushed red brick imported from Cremona, Italy. (The only thing missing is grass.) There are 84 courts with cameras for live-streaming so aunts and uncles in Idaho can watch their nieces and nephews play in tournaments.
Thirty-two of the courts will be smart courts, hooked up with analytical instrumentation that breaks down players’ mechanics, from the angles they take getting to the ball to the spin rate on their forehands. The system, installed by PlaySight, provides computer terminals at courtside so players and coaches can analyze performance on court.