USTA hopes new 64-acre facility will improve American tennis

The United Stated Tennis Association unveiled its sprawling new national campus, a first of its kind training facility that USTA officials hope in time produces more elite American men's and women's players.

The $63 million USTA National Campus features an indoor facility and 100 outdoor tennis courts with a variety of playing surfaces. It The Lake Nona campus, located just south east of Orlando, will be home to every level of tennis from youth to collegiate players to elite international players.

"For players from every age and every ability, the USTA National Campus will raise the bar on how we deliver tennis with the goal of making our great sport more accessible to more people than ever before," USTA chairman and president Katrina Adams said Thursday at the 64-acres facility that officially opened to the public on Monday. "This is nirvana, tennis heaven. This is truly the home of American tennis."

Billed as the biggest and most innovative facility of its kind in the world, the USTA National Campus is designed to develop tennis players beginning at a young age in hopes of attracting more people to the sport.

The number of American players consistently having success at the highest level has dwindled of late. Andy Roddick's 2003 U.S. Open championship was the last Grand Slam won by an American man. Serena Williams has been virtually unchallenged on the women's side, but at 35 she won't play forever.

In addition to traditional training methods, athletes at the campus will be exposed to cutting edge technology. Coaches and teachers and event organizers from around the country will also be able to come to the campus and take information they gather back to their communities.

"This USTA campus really leaves no stone unturned," said Chris Evert, an 18-time Grand Slam Singles champion and former No.1 women's player. "The attention to detail has been tremendous and it really will enhance our sport at every level. This will be a game changer. I've never seen anything like it."

That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of the former American tennis stars on hand for the grand opening, including Jim Courier, James Blake and Evert.

"People are stunned when they come here because no place like it has ever been conceived of much-less built," said USTA executive director Gordon Smith.

Evert, who runs Chris Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, said she is most impressed by the grass roots possibilities of the USTA National Campus. It's open to the public and has vowed to provide opportunities for athletes of all abilities and from all economic backgrounds. She believes the increased interest will ultimately make the sport stronger in this country.

"I honestly think with this we are going to see numbers (increase) and not only in participation," she said, "but I think we are going to see numbers into young kids really wanting to become professionals."