Cary may be the newest tennis hot spot. This weekend, the town hosted almost 800 adult and senior players from nine Southern states for the U.S. Tennis Association's League Tennis Southern Mixed Championships.
Divided into six adult and five senior divisions, the 110 teams worked their way to Cary by winning their respective divisions in their state.
"This is the first time Iíve been to Cary and itís gorgeous," said Luann Causey of the 8.0 senior team from Macon, Ga. "Itís cooler here, the leaves are changing and the competition is great. Weíve had a blast."
Although the USTA uses the National Tennis Rating Program to track the skill levels of its players, the leagueís Mixed Doubles program allows players of different NTRP levels to play together and allows those without a determined rating to decided for themselves.
The adult division, which includes players from 19 to 50 years, ranges from a beginning level of 5.0 to a more advanced 10.0. The senior division, for players 50 years and older, ranges from 5.0 to 9.0.
"We have players that are very new to tennis who might win a national championship," said Marilyn Sherman, the director of adult tennis in the USTA Southern Section. "Itís a fun thing to just start playing and happen to be on a team that winís their local league and continues to compete and win against new players to go all the way."
Of the near 665,000 players in the entire USTA, the Southern Section accounts for nearly 25 percent of the leagueís participant population and 26,000 off those members play mixed doubles league.
But for those who earned their spot in the championships, getting to Cary was only half the battle. Once they arrived, they had one goal in mind: win their division to earn a spot in the USTA League Tennis National Eastern Regional Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, held Nov. 16-19.
With games spread over the courts at Cary Tennis Park, Godbold Park, Middle Creek and Annie Jones, the tournament started on Oct. 20. The finals were scheduled to run through Sunday, but the steady stream of rain kept some players from winding up their matches in time.
Perhaps the most anticipated game was the 9.0 Adult Division finals, in which two N.C. teams, one from Cary and the other from Lake Norman, sweated it out.
Cary came out victorious and earned a trip to Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, the league held a party for the players at Koka Booth Amphitheatre. With wine and live music, it seemed the Sunday rain may have done the players a favor. The competition was left on the court and the night was dedicated to socializing, dancing and a little barbeque.
As a mixed doubles tournament, it would have seemed logical for players to join as husband-and-wife pairs. But from experience, many partners decide otherwise.
"Sometimes they find out itís better to be on the same team but partnered with different people," Sherman said. "So itís interesting to find out the ones that can actually play on the court together and have a good time."
Bob Harla of Greenwood, S.C., has been playing for six years, and he, too, has noticed the partner trend.
"No, weíd never allow husband-and-wife partners on our team," he said, jokingly. "Thatís why we get along so well."
Harla, who recently turned 60, believes his tennis career is far from over. Heís noticed many of his colleagues picking up a golf club instead of a tennis racket, but he says heís not ready yet.
In fact, heís urging the Southern Section to start up a super-senior mixed doubles program.
"When I get old Iíll take up golf," he said. "I think we could add a super-senior mixed division to this league, though. Itís a ball!"
After the 11 division winners of the tournament were crowned, some werenít ready to leave.
"I just learned today that one of the playerís parents are moving to Cary," Sherman said. "Theyíre active people and they could have chosen anywhere. The people in this tournament are easily from a hundred different areas, but many of them donít have a public tennis center, so I think that means a lot for this area."
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