By Carl Danbury/ATC
USTA Southern is not only well represented off the court at the Atlanta Tennis Championships as the event’s presenting sponsor, but also inside the white lines with North Carolina’s John Isner in the singles finals.
USTA Southern, the largest section in the USTA with more than 188,000 members in nine states, is focused on growing the game – not only through grass roots initiatives – but also by bringing the world-class tennis to the Atlanta area every year for the ATP World Tour’s Atlanta Tennis Championships. The section purchased the sanction to the tournament that was formerly in Indianapolis and moved it to Atlanta last year.
USTA Southern President Mike McNulty recognizes Atlanta’s importance to the game of tennis, and is committed to making the Atlanta Tennis Championships the premier event leading up to the US Open every year. Prior to Saturday’s matches, McNulty and past president Rex Maynard warmly welcomed guests as they entered the gates of the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Ga., as if they were coming to a backyard picnic.
"Every one of the fans who attend these matches are important to us and to the future of this event," McNulty said. "USTA Southern made a significant investment to bring this important tournament to the area. We want to bring the very best tennis players in the world to Atlanta every year."
The fans – who have witnessed some incredible tennis and provided their support – are a key component to the growth and allure of the Atlanta Tennis Championships in future years.
"These children coming through the turnstiles with their parents to watch the players they want to emulate – will make both the kids and the parents want to play more tennis," McNulty said. "I am league player myself, have been forever, and as soon as I am finished attending a tournament, I am invigorated and can’t wait to go out and try some of the things I saw these guys do. "
While third-set tiebreaks and big serves attract some fans, others may attend for the opportunities the event provides. USTA Southern and the Atlanta Tennis Championships initiated a unique twist to the event, unlike any other, according to McNulty.
"We connected the event with our community tennis efforts. On the back courts of this complex, you’ll see all sorts of people playing. They participate in our special tennis programs –Special Populations, wheelchair tennis, for instance – playing as part of a Southern program," McNulty added. "Kids 10 years of age and younger are playing here on smaller courts with low compression balls and smaller racquets. That’s where the growth of tennis is."
To further the advancement of the game in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, USTA Southern provides assistance to those who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the game.
"That is a huge part of what Southern does," McNulty offered. "We provide funding to the NJTL (National Junior Tennis and Learning) chapters for underprivileged youth in our section. We also offer grants to enable youths that could not otherwise afford to travel to compete in some tournaments. We want kids to be able to play whatever their financial condition might be."
Even if that means making an impression on those who can assist USTA Southern grow the game … one handshake at a time.