Growth of Tennis in Charleston
By: James Beck for the Family Circle Cup
Charleston always was a great tennis town. When the Family Circle Cup moved its tournament to Daniel Island in 2001, Charleston became even a greater tennis town.
The Family Circle Cup put Charleston on the national and international tennis maps. That led to Charleston being officially recognized as America’s Best Tennis Town on Sept. 6, 2010 on center stage at the U.S. Open. The achievement marked Charleston’s proudest tennis moment.
There were others such as the 2004 Davis Cup tie against Belarus when Family Circle Stadium was packed with the world’s most avid and patriotic tennis fans, along with the excitement that came with the event. The package of fun included Andy Roddick’s bullet of a serve that became the fastest serve ever recorded.
When you think of tennis in Charleston, you automatically think of the world-class complex on Daniel Island that comes fully alive in early April.
While the Charleston area has exploded with growth and tourism during the Family Circle Cup era, tennis has blossomed along the way. League tennis participation has soared with the area’s growth.
No one knows exactly how much, but more than 4,200 unique players participated in the Lowcountry Tennis Association in 2013 whereas only about 2,600 unique players were in the league in 2005, the first time the LCTA has a record for unique numbers, according to former LCTA president Bob Peiffer and current head Ken Edwards.
The LCTA area included 3,843 USTA members in 2004, while currently there are 4,371 USTA members in the area for a 13.7 percent growth rate over nine years. USTA membership is a requirement for league tennis participation.
Only Atlanta tops the LCTA in player participation in the nine-state Southern Section. A total of 15,258 league registrations were made in 2013. There were 6,243 registrations in 2002.
Of course, there is the daytime Charleston Area Ladies Tennis Association where nearly a thousand women participated for 2013-14. A good percentage of these ladies play in the LCTA as well.
Court construction has flourished on Daniel Island and nearby Mount Pleasant areas since 2000, with the addition of at least 50 courts.
The Family Circle Cup opened the gates for the construction of tennis courts on Daniel Island when it decided to move to Charleston following its 2000 event at Hilton Head Island. Opening with 17 courts, the Family Circle Tennis Center now has 20 courts, 14 clay and six hard. The tennis center broke ground on two hard courts and one clay court in June 2013 with completion in October 2013.
The neighboring Daniel Island Club has grown from two courts in 2001 to 11 courts, and is adding one more court this year, with plans for four more in the future. The City of Charleston also has built two courts at Freedom Park on Daniel Island.
Family Circle Tennis Center brought Fritz Nau to Charleston as its tennis director in January 2001, and Nau eventually took his big league training camp credentials a few miles away to Mount Pleasant and opened the private Players Club (now named Live to Play Tennis) in 2005. LTP has 16 lighted courts, nine of them clay courts.
The town of Mount Pleasant has added three clay courts in recent years as well as two courts at Park West. West of the Ashley, the City of Charleston has a new six-court facility at Grand Oaks. Maybank Tennis Center on James Island has totally rebuilt into a sparkling tennis complex, adding two new clay courts. The Jack Adams Tennis Center in downtown Charleston is scheduled to rebuild its complex this summer.
Due to its long history as a tennis town and heavy league tennis participation, Charleston has earned a reputation for its tennis knowledge. That virtue is put on display every year at the Family Circle Cup where crowds identify with and appreciate doubles almost as much they as they enjoy seeing the great singles players such as Venus and Serena Williams who call on Family Circle Tennis Center every spring.
It’s not uncommon to see large crowds staying late on a Friday night to watch doubles inside Family Circle Stadium after the big-name stars have turned in to rest for the next day’s semifinals of the Family Circle Cup. When the stadium becomes the center of attraction, many veteran Family Circle Cup observers head to the outside courts for a close-up observation of some of the world’s most elite doubles players.