When Rafael Nadal dispatched Novak Djokovic in the men's final, it was the conclusion of what was a wildly exciting 2010 US Open, not just for the players but also for the fans that flocked to Flushing Meadows from all across the United States over the course of 15 action-packed days.
Yet, for certain attendees, such as those who are actively involved with tennis year-round in their hometowns as part of a Community Tennis Association (CTA), the pilgrimage to the epicenter of American tennis took on a deeper meaning. As part of USTA.com's recap of the 2010 Open, we will highlight some of the journeys made by these volunteer groups from different parts of the country. In the coming days, five CTAs will tell their stories of travel, tennis and triumph within their communities.
Classified as "any incorporated, geographically defined, not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization that supports or provides programs which promote and develop the growth of tennis," the five CTAs that made it to New York City are but a sampling of over 1,000 CTAs accounted for under the umbrella of the USTA's 17 sections. The associations work primarily at the grassroots level to coordinate and maintain tennis programs and services, guaranteeing that they are open and accessible to all.
Being at the US Open was not only a chance to take in a world-class Grand Slam tournament but also to spread the word about what progress is being made at the local level to preserve the game now being played by over 30 million people nationwide.
"We're extremely pleased that for the first time ever we can utilize the national platform provided by the US Open to recognize the Community Tennis Associations around the nation that are in attendance," said David Slade, USTA National Manager for CTAs. "The US Open and the USTA's family of websites provide a great opportunity to increase awareness amongst tennis fans - many of whom attend the Open themselves - about the programs and services being offered by organizations around the country."
Today, we begin with the Jefferson County CTA of Port Townsend, Wash., and the words of Founder/President Julie Jablonski. Attending the Open with her family, Jablonski also kept a running diary of events as they happened, describing the experience. Here are her entries:
Tennis Teachers Conference
We traveled to the US Open to attend the National Tennis Teachers Conference. The conference was chock full of coaching tips and drills, QuickStart Tennis festival information and training, high performance coaching, on-court training at the NTC, panels of speakers and more.
The conference was a chance to network, meet USTA staff and teaching professionals, and make friends with members of other CTAs, Parks and Recreation and high school coaches. Highlights were meeting pros, like Mary Joe Fernandez, John Evert and Ken DeHart, and listening to the panel discussion with Melanie Oudin, Pam Shriver and Cliff Drysdale, as well as another led by former US Open champion Tracy Austin. As a volunteer coach, I’d highly recommend a coach or volunteer at any level to attend and get the benefits that go with it, since it is scheduled in conjunction with the US Open. The conference bus transportation between the hotel and the NTC for the on-court activities and the first two days of matches was a bonus and made it stress-free!
Arthur Ashe Kids' Day
We arrived in time for the Arthur Ashe Kids' Day training on Friday evening, and on Saturday morning we took the train from Grand Central Station out to the station at the US Open. It was actually quite easy and certainly not crowded, since it was before the big matches and early in the morning. Other times, we took the USTA bus using our conference pass.
Walking around from the East Gate to the South Gate in the quiet morning gave us a chance to absorb the size of the tennis center and the park area outside. As we advanced through the South Gate, we saw filming activities on QuickStart near the entrance, and we stopped to see photos at the US Open Court of Champions. Over 500 volunteers help put on Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, and we were quite pleased to be selected to help out.
The vista across the plaza to Arthur Ashe Stadium is quite grand with the fountain. We got to know the plaza well, as we criss-crossed going from various courts to the stadium matches over the next few days. It was fun to explore the courts before the bustle started.
We had a lot of fun participating in and attending AAKD. There are plenty of on-court and off-court activities for kids. Adults can also watch the pros practice, so there is something for everyone. As a CTA delivering youth tennis, watching how AAKD and the on-court activities were run was worthwhile to generate new ideas for things to do at home.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
It doesn’t take long to feel quite at home at the NTC. It is not like going to our nearby Safeco Field in Seattle, where you are inside one stadium for all your needs. At the NTC, it’s a bit more like Disneyland. You get to be outside the stadium, enjoy walking around, enjoy some entertainment, shopping for souvenirs, going to the SmashZone, watch famous players go by, watch some outside interviews being conducted and, of course, eat. The entire site is clean and well-kept and seems very safe. The USTA has plenty of hosts to answer questions and help you find your way. I’d definitely bring my family on the next trip.
The vendors were very pleasant and helpful. Thank you to the vendor at Arthur Ashe Stadium who saved me with ice cubes for my hat on a 96-degree day inside the stadium - the ice evaporated, and my head didn’t even get wet! Our hotel loaned us a couple of umbrellas to shield us from the sun. Many people were jealous we’d thought of it, and we would loan the second one to people next to us, much to their sheer relief. There isn’t much shade around the courts, so definitely bring an umbrella along and use it politely where you can.
The 2010 US Open
Our CTA was invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of Arthur Ashe Stadium, which was so much fun and gave us a sense of the work happening to pull off this event. The media broadcast rooms, watching players walk by (Jimmy Connors strolled right past us - thrilling!), going to areas players relax in, and seeing the stringing room were all part of the tour. The tour of the Arthur Ashe Stadium allowed us to get an "interview" picture for our scrapbook.
We saw Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and many more players practice while we sat on a bench next to the courts on the first day of the Open. Later on, we had tickets for Opening Night and got to see Venus and Roger take those gains made in practice and apply them to the big stage. During the match against Brian Dabul, we cheered on our feet for Federer’s famous tweener winner!
Think about it - where else can you watch pros practice, hear John McEnroe’s advice on tennis (or actually basketball!), or get a book signed from his brother, Patrick?
For the engineers and camera lovers out there, some real entertainment actually happens in the air at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Check out the Spider-Cam – in a moment it can travel around the stadium, up high or down low. We found ourselves watching it between points and marveled at it and the pictures shown up on the big screens. Pretty cool!
I think the best kept ‘secret,’ especially for those traveling from far away and who have budget issues, is that the qualifying rounds, Arthur Ashe Kids' Day and the Sunday practice day are all free to watch! The grounds aren’t crowded, either. It was rather like being at your favorite local tennis tournament but with professional play and spectacular courts! I would come back to watch early and then buy tickets for Opening Night and the first round or two to see lots of tennis, yet stay within a budget. I’d make sure to get grounds passes while they are on sale when tickets first come up.
Bottom line – We had a terrific time, and we’d recommend a trip to the National Tennis Teachers Conference and the US Open.
A Bit of Information About Jefferson County
The Jefferson County Community Tennis Association was started in 2007 to address the lack of tennis programming, the loss of the high school tennis team and the condition of public court facilities in our area. Indoor tennis clubs are an hour away, and local outdoor courts are at the stage that most need to be rebuilt. Starting a CTA was relatively easy, since there are so many resources available through the USTA Section offices, and other CTAs are willing to give advice, as well.
Port Townsend is a small historic seaport and arts community of about 10,000, with about 30,000 in Jefferson County. Even if your actual CTA membership is small, like ours, with creativity, motivation and a willingness to take the time to work together with community partners, you can accomplish more than you think. Since forming our CTA, we’ve been able to help resurface one set of courts at Fort Worden State Park, installed a backboard on another, and successfully advocated for a combined Port Townsend-Chimacum high school tennis team.
Our CTA has taught tennis throughout four school districts and three private schools for after-school and summer camp programs and even reached home-schooled students. We’ve helped each school obtain USTA equipment grants or conducted fundraising to purchase equipment. Jefferson County is part of the USTA’s Adopt-A-School Program and chose to adopt all our schools. We’ve offered Recreation Coaches Workshops and PE teacher training, painted QuickStart lines on courts and playgrounds, held tennis block parties and even a professional tennis match exhibition with coaches from the University of Washington.
We’ve found that, through working cooperatively with school districts, county and city parks and recreation departments, YMCA, Kiwanis and Rotary organizations and neighboring CTAs, we can slowly build programs that suit our community. Organizations share QuickStart equipment between each other, knowing that our 2,500-plus kids are important and that budgets are tight. Our community is gaining seniors, so creatively addressing their needs by offering QuickStart Tennis on-court and in a gym in the winter as a learning opportunity is important, as well. We need adults as well as kids involved in tennis, especially if we are to maintain and rebuild courts for the future. As neighboring communities continue to grow tennis through their CTAs, we’re looking forward to being able to start USTA Jr. Team Tennis, QuickStart play-format tournaments and outdoor adult leagues.
It takes time to develop community tennis, but since tennis can be played at all ages, I think we have the time, and it’s worth the effort.