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When Elizabethtown Tennis Commission chairman Bo O’Brien set a plan in motion to create a tennis facility in Elizabethtown, he had an eye on hosting big tournaments.
While O’Brien had hoped the newly-opened Freeman Lake Tennis Complex would get to host a major junior team tournament this summer, it won’t happen due to a lack of hotel availability.
Freeman Lake will still host five tournaments in the next four months, including the 5th Region Tennis Tournament beginning on May 4, which will end a long run of the tournament being played at University Drive Park dating to the late 1970s.
The first tournament at the $1.2 million complex took place last week as area high schools competed in the Lincoln Heritage Conference Tournament.
After two days of tournament play and a multitude of head-to-head matches throughout the spring, the reviews are in.
And the consensus is quite clear: it can get a bit windy.
“I sound very spoiled, but Freeman Lake is awful. The wind tears it up,” said Elizabethtown junior Daniel Crain. “And there’s never been a time when there’s not any wind.”
“They are great courts,” Crain added. “I just hate them at the same time.”
With the lake just a few hundred feet away from the facility and a lack of trees or form of structure to block the wind, it’s gotten quite breezy.
“Obviously, we learned at conference that the wind can typically be a bigger factor at the lake,” said Elizabethtown coach Karen Henson, who will be the tournament director of the region tournament. “We always thought we had some wind at University Drive and then we realized what the wind really was like when playing tennis. But it’s blowing on both sides of the net, so it’s not like it affects one player or it’s only blowing for one player. That’s just something that the players have to adapt to.”
It goes without saying, no facility – especially at the high-school level – is absolutely perfect.
“For tennis players, that’s part of it – dealing with the elements,” O’Brien said. “The idea that you’re playing on such a good court like that, you need to overlook and try to play the best that you can with the elements and do what you can do.”
O’Brien understands the added degree of difficulty the wind creates at Freeman Lake, but insists the jury is still out.
“Until we get through a whole season at Freeman Lake, you really don’t know how the wind is going to affect it year-round,” O’Brien said. “In the springtime in Kentucky, we have wind. That’s normal. It’s been windy at University Drive, too, but because it sits down in that little valley, it wasn’t as windy.”
Since Freeman Lake opened in December, the blustery conditions seem to be the only complaint.
“The wind is a big factor,” said North Hardin sophomore Amanda Patterson.
The setup is much more viewer-friendly to coaches and spectators, making it an ideal tournament site. With the 10 courts instead of the eight at University Drive, tournament directors have the luxury of getting more tennis played in a shorter period of time.
And for everyone involved, the viewing experience is abundantly better because of the layout of the courts. Instead of the one row of eight courts like at University Drive, Freeman Lake is essentially set up in two rows of five courts, with plenty of walking space and seating available in between most of the courts.
Fans standing between Courts 1 and 7 can actually have an eye on all 10 courts just by rotating.
For a coach trying to monitor all of his or her players, that’s an added bonus of the new facility.
“At University Drive, (a coach) could have someone on Court 1 and Court 8, and that’s quite a bit of distance,” O’Brien said. “Out at Freeman Lake, you don’t have to walk too far to get from one court to another court. You can kind of stand in the middle and even watch all 10 of them if you want.”
O’Brien said the city plans to plant trees in the area to help alleviate some of the wind. But that’s years down the road.
For area players, the differences between Freeman Lake and University Drive are stark.
Freeman Lake was constructed properly with the correct levels and the late-afternoon doesn’t affect players’ vision as it does at University Drive.
When University Drive was built, it was slanted from the net to the backline on both sides so there’s a hump in the middle. O’Brien says that regular tennis players notice it right away and Crain says he hears about it from visiting opponents from outside of the area all the time.
The differences mean that players must have different strategies at each venue.
“At University Drive, I know that I have to hit with more topspin because of the mound in the middle, whereas at Freeman Lake, I can hit farther shots and harder serves,” Patterson said.
With nine teams from outside of the area coming for the region tournament, will area players have an advantage?
“I think we do because we’ve played here more than some of the teams that are farther away, and we know how to hit on each side of the court,” Patterson said.
Even though she’s from a rival school, Crain agreed with Patterson.
“Yes, it definitely gives us an advantage,” Crain said. “But after everyone plays on each side and everyone serves, usually you get into a good match.”
Weeks from now, the wind may be a non-factor in deciding which players make it to the state tournament. But as O’Brien mentioned earlier, the jury is still out on that one.
“It’s one of those things that who knows?” Henson said. “We may have a day where we have no wind. It’s possible. I keep hoping. We’ll see, but that’s a possibility, too.”
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.