America loving tennis again

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A small, yellow ball flies by in a blur, soaring just millimeters over a net. Back and forth it goes until finally it hits the mesh and the crowd explodes in cheers.

Tennis is no longer the “country club” sport it once was. It is growing in children and adult recreation leagues across the country and gaining a large fan base, especially at BYU.

BYU men’s tennis coach Brad Pearce said he sees his coaching role not only as directing and improving his team, but as a marketer and advocate for the BYU tennis program in both the student and Provo community. In his time as head coach, Pearce has helped develop a large and ever-growing fan base at his team’s matches.

“As more people have come to the matches, for whatever reason: they’ve come for the first time, they’ve seen the athleticism of the players and the excitement of college tennis,” Pearce said, “[spectators] find it’s fun and they enjoy the intensity and the emotion — they’re up close and they’re not removed. All those things are combining to help us have great crowd support, which we appreciate.”

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Daniel Kelly (left) watches on as Tyson Tharp (right) returns a ball during a match with friends on BYU's outdoor tennis courts
Brandon White, a senior from Riverton became a BYU tennis fan this season, largely in part to the talent and dedication required from the players.

“I am still baffled at the serves,” White said. “I can’t even see the ball, but they are capable of returning it with precision, accuracy and power. That blows my mind.”

White said he likes how close to the matches fans are because they can see the emotion on the player’s faces and, in a sense, get to know the players and how they play and react during the matches.

“It’s almost like you can feel exactly what they’re going through, so it’s really easy to get into the matches and get excited about them,” White said.

Some of BYU’s tennis fans have taken the many tennis classes that are offered at BYU, which are taught by coaches and other tennis instructors throughout the year.

Courtney Warczak, a junior from Tacoma, Wash., played tennis when she was younger and thought taking a tennis class would be a fun experience and a way to get away from the stress of the academic school year.

“I was terrible at tennis and I hate being bad at sports, so I wanted to improve,” Warczak said. “Now, I know how to serve. I never knew how to serve beforehand and I didn’t know how hard it was.”

Warczak said she has gained a better appreciation for the game when she goes to matches since taking a tennis class.

Tennis isn’t just getting bigger at BYU. There are recreational leagues and the United States Tennis Association who have programs for adults and children to play tennis in Utah and across the country.

The Provo City Recreation Department has children and adult leagues with multiple sessions throughout the summer, most geared for beginners getting into the sport of tennis.

Shelianne White, a recreation supervisor at the Provo City Recreation Department, said its tennis program is strong and many times, tennis is a family affair. Many siblings are signed up who learn the game together, the game their parents have been playing for years.

“I’ve found that most of our participants in tennis tend to know someone who plays tennis, or a parent signs them up because they want to get [their kids] involved in their sport,” White said.

With limited tennis instructors and the individual aspect of tennis, the program is smaller then other team sports like soccer, basketball and baseball, but it is growing.

“We definitely had more [youth participants] this year than last year, there’s definitely a positive trend there,” White said. “We also have a lot of repeating kids for multiple sessions throughout the summer.”

Many tennis players and fans admire the precision skill level tennis requires. And players, whether they play leisurely or competitively, like the challenge.

“I observe a lot more about specific techniques that [players] use that I learned in my class,” Warczak said. “It’s really hard. It doesn’t look that hard, but it is. And I like to challenge myself with sports and I felt taking a tennis class really helped me improve my game.”

Even young tennis players appreciate the attention to detail they must focus on to learn the game, and many like the fact that tennis isn’t your typical sport.

“I think a lot of parents and kids who choose tennis choose it as fringe sport,” White said. “It isn’t a mainstream sport. You can’t just jump on the field and kick a soccer ball around. It takes a little bit more technical work.”

The USTA has taken youth tennis one step further. For years, other sports have modified their games to adhere to youth players. Soccer has smaller goals and fields; basketball has shorter hoops; baseball created t-ball. Tennis has now joined this trend.

The USTA has created tennis geared specifically for kids in the Ten and Under Tennis Initiative and the rules of competition have been altered. There are smaller courts, shorter nets, kid-sized rackets and even special tennis balls that don’t bounce as high. These adjustments allow young players to learn the technical aspects of a game that now fits their size and skill level.

Anne Davis, the USTA National Manger of the Recreation Coaches and Programs said the initiative has taken off, and the support from professional tennis players — like Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and Serena Williams — has helped lead to its success.

“It’s growing tremendously right now,” Davis said. “The professional players on tour and the teaching professionals are very critical. If we get their support and young children are looking up to [these professional players] they think ‘[tennis] is okay to do.’ This is great. It takes all of us within the tennis industry to get behind this inititaive to make it go.”

Whether you play competitively, for fun or participate as a spectator, one thing is certain in the world of tennis — emotions are high, the skill is impressive and it’s not going anywhere.

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