by Kait O'Callahan
America’s tennis scene differs almost as much as its states. During my six weeks (and counting) in the USA I’ve played on a mix of courts from the cracked asphalt in Lafayette to the overwhelmingly beautiful Indian Wells. I’ve played as a man rapped courtside, I’ve played in 100 degree heat, and I’ve played as squirrels danced in the treetops and cracked nuts above my head. But, I haven’t played on anything like the city slick courts we encountered at the BB&T Atlanta Open on Saturday night.
Famous as a city that plays tennis but turns its back on watching the pros, Atlanta wasn’t fond of the 20 minute drive to see the Atlanta Open in its original location. Set in a country club, the tournament failed to attract casual fans to the venue and was in dire need of a makeover. Tournament Director Bob Bryant saw potential in Atlantic Station, an urban complex filled with beauty salons, restaurants and retail shops. It took some effort on his behalf to convince the ATP and the USTA that his plan could work, but eventually he got his wish and the Atlanta Open opened to city views in 2012.
‘City’ is certainly the first word that comes to mind as we walk amongst the concrete pavements and hoards of teenagers. It’s hard to imagine a tennis court appearing amongst the outdoor cafes and pubs, but sure enough, kids with tennis rackets and restaurants capitalising on rain delays soon made way for the venue, a beautiful if cramped space set on a former parking lot. Drinks and food here are sold outside of the main court, meaning even those without tickets can buy merchandise and overpriced food. Once seated, we’re treated to skyscraper views, a bustling atmosphere and the whirr of a cinema’s air conditioner. The BB&T skyscraper sits right in view of the court, the ultimate sponsorship deal. It can all be a bit distracting and it’s far from peaceful, but the result is a court so original it’s bound to stick in the mind of even the most jaded tennis fan. It seems to be working amongst the casual fans of Atlanta too; the match between Andy Roddick and John Isner is a sell out and the crowd are enthusiastic.
With Bryant’s insight, perhaps Atlanta will become a tennis watching town after all. All the tournament needed was some urban glitz to turn professional tennis from an event with wine and strawberries to one with hip hop music and beer. It suits the sprawling city to a tee. It’s just a shame I couldn’t play on it myself.
Photo: Getty Images