USTA builds to innovate and to win
A dozen or so bags of imported Italian crushed red brick lie on one side of the 63-acre U.S. Tennis Association national campus in Lake Nona, a testament to the tennis governing body’s effort to start churning out champions. The pricey brick is replacement clay for six courts that are among the 100 at the newly opened campus, dubbed the “new Home of American Tennis.”
It’s no secret that other than Serena Williams, American tennis is in its most fallow period since, well, ever. Part of that is due to increased global competition, and more sports domestically luring athletes. But it’s also partly a residue of decentralized training and few opportunities to play on surfaces other than hard courts.
So, when the USTA built the $100 million complex, it ensured clay as well as hard courts were available to elite athletes. Most of the Europeans who dominate the sport grow up playing on the surface.
The complex, which has a dormitory and cafeteria for the elite juniors, is also quickly becoming a major destination for college tennis. College teams play their tournaments in their own 12-court wing of the complex, with all matches streamed.
But perhaps the most important feature of the campus is innovation. The USTA is testing line-calling cameras on courts, and already has 32 smart courts, the most anywhere in the world.
“We want this to be a laboratory for tennis in America,” USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith said. “We have a department called USTA U, and that is going to be a place where we bring in the most innovative people in the game.”
“We will be looking around the world for technology that helps people play, helps people learn and bringing it in and trying it out,” he added.
Smith expects that experiments at Lake Nona can translate to professional events such as the U.S. Open. Take line calling, which is available only on a handful of courts now at the Open in part because of cost.
Smith gives credit to the Open line-calling vendor, Hawk-Eye, but makes it clear that the USTA is open to other ideas that may germinate in Lake Nona. There, the smart courts and new line-calling cameras are provided by PlaySight.