Charleston has long been known for its crucial role in American history, its distinctive brand of architecture, its abundance of churches and its welcoming attitude toward visitors from throughout the Southeast, the nation and the world. An early and decisive battle of the Revolution was waged nearby, and the first shots of the Civil War were fired at a fort in its harbor. Centuries old buildings stand strong and tall as a reminder of the Holy City’s storied past, while year after year, Charleston is touted as one of America’s friendliest cities.
Now Charleston area residents have something new to crow about. The city recently claimed honors as the United States Tennis Association’s “Best Tennis Town” for 2010, an honor Charleston will own at least until 2012.
Along with a trophy, Charleston earned $100,000 that can be used for tennis programs or to build or improve tennis facilities. The Holy City competed for top honors with 81 other U.S. cities, including second-place Atlanta and third-place Richmond, Virginia. Other cities finishing in the top 10 were Beaverton, Oregon; Clearwater, Florida; Delray Beach, Florida; Manchester Center, Vermont; Rome, Georgia; Rosemount, Minnesota; and Snow Hill, North Carolina.
“Charleston is the best tennis town in America because here, tennis is for everybody,” Mayor Joe Riley said in a video prepared for the competition. “It starts with kids from inner city schools, and you’ve got a world class Family Circle facility that is owned by the city of Charleston and available for our citizens.”
The winner of the prestigious prize was announced at the 2010 U.S. Open in Flushing, New York. The contest got underway in April 2010, when 82 cities submitted their entries. A panel of judges narrowed the field to 10, then tennis enthusiasts around the country had the opportunity to vote online during an 11-day period in July.
Each April, Charleston hosts the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island, a nine-day tournament where the best female tennis players in the world compete for cash prizes totaling more than $700,000. Launched in 1973 on Hilton Head Island, the event was moved to Charleston in 2001. In 2011, a record 94,241 fans went through the turnstiles to watch Carolina Wozniacki claim the singles title and Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina come out on top in the doubles competition. Past champions include Chris Evert, Rosie Casals, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Jennifer Capriati and Venus and Serena Williams.
However, tennis in the Charleston area does not begin and end during a nine-day stretch in April at the 10,200- seat Family Circle Tennis Center. The facility hosted the premier international mens’ tennis competition, the Davis Cup, in 2004. Meanwhile, the Kiawah Island Tennis Center has been cited as the world’s best tennis destination four of the past five years by Tennis Resorts Online, and, in 2010, the Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms soared all the way from 10th place to the runner-up spot. The rankings were based on a 17-category survey of serious tennis players.
Those who play for fun, recreation and the opportunity to pass the sport on to the next generation also are prevalent in the Charleston area. The Lowcountry Tennis Association boasts more than 12,000 members, while the 2010-2011 season of the Charleston Area Ladies Tennis Association included competition among 53 teams and 736 players participating at 22 tennis centers throughout the area.
Meanwhile, with an eye on producing a whole new generation of tennis players, the United States Tennis Association recently provided the Charleston County School District with a three-year, $150,000 grant that eventually will provide equipment and lessons during and after school to students at 45 CCSD schools. And the Family Circle Cup has teamed up with the city Recreation Department’s Courting Kids program for inner-city children, committing more than $50,000 in financial, material and promotional support. Founder and coordinator Delores Jackson launched Courting Kids in 1992 with a $12,000 grant from the Paul Newman Foundation, long before the city’s connection with the sport of tennis was enhanced by the nationally-televised Family Circle Cup.