By Ann Liguori
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The United States Tennis Association's National Campus officially opened Thursday in Orlando, Florida. Officials are calling the $63 million facility, which is situated on 64 acres in the Lake Nona area near the international airport, the new "home of American tennis."
The campus, which features 100 courts with practically every surface available except for grass, will be open to all ages and ability levels -- professionals, collegiate players, recreational players, and beginners. But certainly a main focus is to develop top American talent in the professional ranks and bring glory back to the country in terms of Grand Slam champions.
Serena and Venus Williams have been carrying the banner for the Americans in the women's game for several decades now, with 29 Grand Slam singles titles between them (22 for Serena). But the last time an American male won a Grand Slam singles title was back in 2003, when Andy Roddick captured the US Open.
Jim Courier, who won his four Grand Slam singles titles (two Australian Opens, two French Opens) between 1991-1993, said the facility should give young American players every opportunity.
"All the elements are in place for our players to become the best they can be," Courier told me. "We can't control the level of talent that we have. We take what we get as player development from their standpoint. With the on-court facility as well as the off-court aspect, the conditioning coaches, the rehab center, the ice baths, the hot tubs, the yoga room, the mind coaches, they have it all set up. It's all here for our players to maximize their talents. That's all you can really hope for and ask for and, hopefully, we'll get some special athletes that will take advantage of this and become No. 1 in the world."
USTA CEO Katrina Adams said she "firmly believes that being that true champion is innate. You have to have that something special in you that takes you to the next level. You have to have that something special that takes you over the edge, that takes you to a champion's level. And that's something that hopefully with all the resources we have here, from psychology and everything else, that we can tap into those kids that are truly special and still be able to nurture those that may not have that, but they're still going to be a great player."
Adams mentioned that Madison Keys, currently ranked eighth in the world, recently purchased a home nearby, as did Francis Tiafoe, who is widely considered one of America's next tennis stars. The Bryan Brothers were also training at the USTA National Campus recently.
Winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, Chris Evert, along with her brother, John, visited the campus. She also took part in the opening ceremony.
"Are you kidding me?!" Evert exclaimed. "We just couldn't believe it. We've heard so much about it. Never in a million years. ... Well, it is said that this is the largest tennis campus in America, maybe in the world. ... I don't think anyone has anything as wonderful as this!"
"My brother John and I own and manage the Evert Tennis Academy where the USTA was before this," Chris Evert added. "And now I understand why! Now I understand why you left because you have this to go to and I'm very, very happy that you left because the opportunities that are here are tremendous."
The new campus features 32 Plexicusion hards courts, 32 Har-Tru green clay courts, 16 Sports Courts, eight DecoTurf acrylic cushion courts, six European Terre Davis red clay courts and six ReBound Ace indoor courts, in addition to two stadium courts.
The facility is divided into eight different areas, including the Adidas Performance Center, which features a lodge that can house up to 40 players participating in player development training programs. There is also an athletic training area for strength and conditioning and a Team USA/ Tournament Headquarters/League Area, which includes a tournament administration building.
In addition, there's a Courtside Cafe, a Family Zone for young players and adults learning the game, the Welcome Center, and a Collegiate Area where the University of Central Florida men's and women's tennis will play and train and host a variety of college tennis events.
And if all that's not enough, the campus features IT/Technology, an in-house TV Network and live streaming, local programming, where anyone can rent out courts from $12-$15 an hour, and the USTA Divisions, which will house the USTA's Community Tennis and Player Development.
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