Players on a court at Surrey Tennis Centre on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Players on a court at Surrey Tennis Centre on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

TENNIS

‘Busiest we’ve ever been’: Tennis has some bounce in Surrey during COVID-19

Operators of tennis centre on 144th prepare to open a third facility, this one in Langley

Unlike some other sports during these COVID-19 days, tennis seems to have some bounce. Along with golf and some other pursuits, the racquet sport is viewed as a relatively safe activity amid the ongoing pandemic.

At Surrey Tennis Centre, it’s tough to book court time right now. The 42,000-square-foot “bubble,” located on 144th near the old Surrey city hall, includes six indoor courts for games and lessons.

“Honestly, right now is the busiest we’ve ever been,” said Larry Jurovich, general manager of the family-operated facility, which opened in 2015.

The courts closed for a couple of months after COVID first hit, back in mid-March, and reopened for spring and summer play.

“There was never a health order to stop playing tennis, we closed because the demand wasn’t there – people were afraid to come, so we closed down until people were ready to play again,” Jurovich explained.

“When we opened back up, it was definitely noticeably slower than before,” he added. “Our club runs extremely close to capacity and we’ve always been very full, but this year we’re up by almost 10 per cent, overall. We think some of that is because there are other sports that kids can’t play anymore, or right now, so people are looking for new activities and that’s driving them to new sports that can be played, like tennis.”

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B.C.’s latest public health order, announced in early December, made for some changes to the way tennis is played, including no doubles games or large-group lessons. Tournaments are also not allowed, and players are encouraged to keep distanced by three metres, among other COVID-19 regulations at the moment. The updated protocols are guidelines are posted to Tennis BC’s website (tennisbc.org).

Meantime, Tennis Canada recommends that players mark their own balls and only touch those during play, among other safety measures.

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When Surrey Tennis Centre’s winter programs started up again on Jan. 4, the junior program was 98 per cent full, Jurovich told the 5,000 subscribers on the facility’s mailing list, with “lots of room” in the adult program.

The email also offered an update about the opening of the company’s third tennis centre, in Langley at 20611 80th Ave., in addition to its facilities in Surrey and Coquitlam.

“The Langley facility will open sometime next month, hopefully mid-February, although we don’t want to put an exact date on it,” Jurovich told the Now-Leader. “It will be much bigger than this, in a big park right in the middle of a brand new development.

“What’s interesting is, they didn’t want it in a bubble, which we find is a great way to play, so we made a deal with them and we’re building a permanent steel building, and the footprint is bigger than this. So not only will it have six indoor courts, it’ll have a much bigger support-services area, plus we have space for a daycare and a big gym, things like that. It’s our biggest project yet.”

The timeline for the Langley facility is an interesting one.

“We broke ground on that centre a week after we closed this centre in March, because of COVID,” Jurovich continued. “I emailed the head of Tennis Canada, who I’m close to, and he said, ‘Oh, Larry, you have a lot of guts to be building in the middle of a pandemic,’ but it’s turned out great because like I say, tennis has been strong and we’ll be really well positioned. The reality is, here, it’s really hard to get a court and really hard to get into a program. And we know that there’ll be a percentage of people who play here, they’ll maybe shift to the Langley club if they’re from Cloverdale or a place like that, and that will ease up some space here.”

• RELATED STORY, from 2015: Ball-hitting marathon gives bounce to new Surrey Tennis Centre.

Jurovich, who lives in the Crescent Beach area, says possible expansion of the Surrey Tennis Centre may one day include pickleball, which has grown in popularity in recent years.

“Expansion here is something in the back of my mind, the next logical move, and that’s based on the co-operation of the city, and they’ve been amazing to work with,” he said of the public-private partnership.

“For us, we wouldn’t change anything here because we need more tennis courts, but if we got into a position to expand, we’d be open to making space for pickleball, yes,” Jurovich added. “The only thing is, pickleball is not super harmonious with tennis, mostly because of the noise – the wooden (pickleball) paddle and the big ball. Most tennis players don’t want to be playing right next to pickleball, so if we were to get into pickleball, we’d probably build a separate pickleball hall.”

• RELATED STORY, from December: Pickleball players are sour about the lack of courts in North Surrey as game’s popularity grows.

As for tennis development, Jurovich counts six young players at the Surrey facility who have earned NCAA scholarships over the past six years.

Among them is White Rock’s Stefanie Faith Frias da Silva, 17, who is coaching younger players in a “gap” year for her, between graduation from Earl Marriott Secondary and college.

Nationally ranked, she’ll be going to a Division 1 NCAA school in the States – she’s just doesn’t know where yet.

“I haven’t decided,” Frias da Silva said. “I have a couple of offers I’m thinking about. COVID has affected that a little bit, because coaches are no longer able to come watch us play tournaments and we’re not able to visit, either. So that complicates things, so it’s all through Zoom calls and phone calls, things like that.”

At Surrey Tennis Centre, she’s been coaching since the summer.

“But I did a lot volunteering before that, too, before I got my coaching certification,” she said. “The courts always seem to be full with kids, adults, all sorts of players. Everyone seems to be loving tennis right now.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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