Atlanta, a tennis town?

By Audraine Jackson

ATLANTA, Georgia – Deep south USA is usually thought of as (American) football country where high school, professional and especially college football is king! But tennis?


Few may immediately think of this country club game as a main staple of Georgia sports, until now.   The BB&T Open in Atlanta is in its third year and drawing some notable names from the tennis world. All four Americans scheduled to play singles at the London Olympics will play in the main draw including local talent Donald Young and John Isner along with Brian Baker and Ryan Harrison. Other notables include Marty Fish and Andy Roddick.


Two time Atlanta series winner Fish is looking forward to defending his title and enjoys playing in front of this fan base. “We get great support in Atlanta. Atlanta is actually one of the more fun weeks, fun cities that we go to all year. They are extremely knowledge in the game of tennis. I think there are more USTA members per capita in Atlanta than in the entire country.… It’s more natural, very easy for us to play there in front of fans like that. I certainly enjoy playing there.”


For the first time in the Atlanta series it will be held in an urban setting with a highly commercial background attracting more inner city patrons that previous suburban events. “As an avid sports enthusiast, I am thrilled that the BB&T Atlanta Open will be held at Atlantic Station,” said Mayor Kasim Reed.  “This unique setting will provide spectators the opportunity to enjoy world-class tennis in an urban environment with dramatic views of the Midtown and Downtown skyline.  This tournament will help solidify USTA’s designation of Atlanta as one of America’s best tennis towns.”
The Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA), a non-profit organization devoted to recreational tennis, is a United States Tennis Association (USTA) affiliate and boasts between 70-80,000 members in the metropolitan area. When it registered in 1934 with the United States Lawn Tennis Association it was designed to promote tennis tournaments and junior tennis development.  “We are the tennis town,” said ALTA president Diane Barker. “ALTA is the largest community based tennis organization in the US. There is nothing close to the passion of the ALTA tennis player. I talk to people from around the country and from Europe and they all know about ALTA. We were the model that USTA used when they developed league play.”


Organizers moved the tournament from the suburbs with the goal of offering more than just a tennis experience with a commercial atmosphere of restaurants and shopping including the addition of several tournament vendors. Tickets sales are reportedly up 30% this year with the venue change.


“That is very important” said Barker. “It makes it an entire experience. There’s more than just the city atmosphere. The players will be amazed at what is available to them being in such a thriving metropolitan area. It’s like a self contained village within the city.”


Barker believes Atlanta is not as known globally as a tennis town due to limited media coverage, but she is hoping this series will change that. “Smaller tournaments period receive less coverage in the media. CNN is right down the street. I think it is tennis. Don’t know why tennis has the connotation that it is not a team sport. It’s amazing. More media coverage is the best way to get this out and change this image. If you are not from the southeast how would you know? I think Atlanta can be a forerunner in a lot of things. We are from New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. We have everything here. We are not a small sleepy southern city. We are a melting pot, the best of everywhere and the weather to prove it. ALTA makes the game for the average person and the whole family can do this sport. A father, son, grandparents and parents can all play. It’s a sport you can play until your 80’ s and in Atlanta, year round!”


Audraine Jackson is covering the BB&T Atlanta Open for Tennis Panorama News July 14-22, 2012. Audraine is a sports blogger, digital journalist and tennis addict. Follow her live updates on @tennisnewsTPN and personal twitter account @atlstoryteller.