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Word-of-mouth has been

Gaming mecca turning into tennis utopia thanks to Tunica National

Tunica Resorts — Last fall, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) named Tunica National one of the nation’s 15 outstanding new tennis facilities, in part because of its unique indoor clay courts that are attracting tennis players by the droves.

“Our vision for this facility was to be a leader in encouraging higher standards for the game of tennis, and USTA’s recognition is positive evidence of our success in our first year of operation,” said Keith Evans, Tunica National’s tennis director and CEO of Gateway Sports Management, the company that manages the tennis division.

“We’ve had great success getting really big tournaments, especially without the organizers seeing our place,” he said. “Before we even opened, I bid the 25-, 35-, 45- and 55-age division USTA Southern Indoor Championships. After that, the word of mouth was phenomenal. Now we’ve been able to get pretty much whatever we bid on. From January to May, we had maybe two weeks off. Next month, we’ll host the USTA Southern Open division, with a lot of open players coming in from all over.”

During its first year of operation, about 5,000 USTA players volleyed at Tunica National, which features the only Hydro-Grid Har-Tru indoor clay courts of its kind east of Colorado. Its unique $150,000 dehumidification system maintains 60% to 65% moisture around the clock.

“I was very skeptical at first about how this indoor clay system would work because other facilities ended up with mushy or hard clay and condensation problems,” said Evans. “I think a lot of places are looking at us to see how the courts fare after three years.”

Har-Tru’s granular surface acts as a shock-absorbing cushion, allowing players to slide into their shots and prevent joint-jarring motions. Spectators can view tennis matches from an upstairs gallery in the 20,000-square-foot clubhouse.

Getting away for drills, games and much more

Tennis teams are impressed with the quality of the Tunica National’s courts and the reasonably priced packages. Weekday retreat packages start at $150 per person. For $250 per person, tennis players receive two hotel nights at a casino resort, eight hours of tennis instruction, lunches both days at Murphy’s Grillroom & Bar and a goodie bag filled with Tunica National logo tennis balls, T-shirts, and coupons for area attractions. A popular add-on: spa packages that include a one-hour massage after the sessions. Because of the demand, bookings must be made at least one month in advance during the week, two months ahead for a weekend.

“We match teams on the same playing level,” said Evans. “For example, we had teams in from Knoxville and Jackson (earlier this month), and after lessons with the pros, we pit one against the other. If a single team comes in, we solicit local players. Twelve ladies in Tunica play at the 3.5 level, 10 are 3.0, and eight are 2.5 players. Then we go to our e-mail list that includes a lot of Memphians. Being here and playing tennis is like living in a tournament atmosphere all the time.”

Ongoing programs include tennis camps, private lessons, group clinics, mixed leagues, monthly tournaments and junior development programs for all levels.

A native of Germantown, Tenn., Evans played tennis for Ole Miss and was a world-ranked ATP tennis player on the circuit for seven years. He served as tennis director of Little Rock Country Club in Arkansas for nine years before landing at Tunica National.

“Many people don’t realize that Charlie Williams was the project director in Tunica when the county decided to build Tunica National,” said Evans. “This was his baby.”

Williams, a former state legislator, is now Gov. Haley Barbour’s chief of staff.

Future plans

Tunica National intends to expand four indoor courts to eight to keep pace with the demand. Because of the heat, humidity and wind blowing off the Mississippi River, no outdoor tennis courts are planned.

“We’ve been in the running for the Davis Cup twice,” said Evans. “We thought we had a real good shot at getting it this year, but the U.S. lost in the first round. We were highly considered for the second round tie. We’ll be in the running again for next year, and we’re now in the finals of the Fed Cup, if the U.S. women’s team defeats Croatia, and Spain defeats its opponent. Then the U.S. would host the finals. Maybe that would happen in Tunica.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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