Tennis leaders across the country have realized in recent years that the sport's future may hinge on its appeal to youth.
Starting Jan. 1, 2012, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has mandated that all of its sanctioned tournaments for players in the 10-and-under age division must apply modified rules that make the game more kid-friendly.
Tennis in Charlotte is ahead of the game. The Charlotte Tennis Association and Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation have made sure of that.
On Nov. 4-6, their partnership for advocating youth tennis will be on display as the CTA hosts the Charlotte Fall Futures tournament at the Jeff Adams Tennis Center at Renaissance Park. The CTA considers the Fall Futures Tournament the finale of its junior team tennis program each year. CTA executive director Carla O'Connor says 85 teams participated this year.
She expects a tournament field of about 150 players, most from Charlotte. The tournament has divisions for boys and girls based on two-year increments, starting at age 8 and going to 18.
The older age groups will play with regular tennis rules, but the 10-under and 8-under divisions will compete in a format called quickstart tennis. It's a style that has been popular in Europe for years.
The format includes simpler scoring systems, a lower-compressed ball (making for less bounce and movement), smaller rackets, and smaller courts.
"It's kind of like what tee ball is to baseball and what pee-wee football is to football," said O'Connor. "You don't put a young baseball player on a big baseball field. That's what we've been guilty of in tennis."
"We really haven't attracted athletes to our game.
"It wasn't fun enough and it was too hard."
A standard singles court is 78 feet long and 27 feet wide. But starting in 2010, the USTA required that all of its 8-under tournaments be played on courts 36 feet long and 18 feet wide.
Those courts are usually lined off perpendicularly on one side of a standard tennis court and use a portable miniature net.
Starting in January 2012, all 10-under USTA tournaments must be played on a shrunken standard court of 60 by 27 feet. The new measurements are where the county parks department became involved.
With the help of grant money from USTA, the department has been able to re-stripe courts at several tennis centers.
Preston Buckman, a park and recreation supervisor/coordinator, says the county started adding the striping to courts in 2009.
The county now has 40 quickstart courts between the Jeff Adams Tennis Center, Mason Wallace Park, Veterans Park, Latta Park, and Alexander Street Park, which was constructed in 2010.
Buckman says the cost for re-striping one court is $225. The county has a grant pending with USTA that would allow the re-striping of 70 more.
"Whenever we build more courts, we would add the quickstart lines," said Buckman. Several parks host youth recreational and training programs using the quickstart formula.
In addition to the Charlotte Fall Futures Tournament next weekend, the CTA also will host the Charlotte Junior Classic at the Jeff Adams Tennis Center and other venues on Nov. 12-14.