Sarah Lang-Gould, 14, plays during a practice session at Surrey Tennis Centre. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

TENNIS

Smash hit for Surrey tennis facility as young players become ‘success stories’

Twelve-court centre opened in 2015 on city-owned land in Panorama area

Larry Jurovich has some bounce in his voice as he talks about the successes of Surrey’s Tennis Centre, which he helped launch four years ago.

In the Panorama area, on 144th Street just north of Surrey Provincial Court, players of all ages have rallied, aced and double-faulted on the facility’s one dozen courts – six under a big bubble, six outdoor – since the fall of 2015.

Jurovich, the general manager there, said operators were pleased to recently open another tennis centre in Coquitlam and have plans to expand to Langley’s Willoughby area.

“I’d say that in every way we can measure it, this has gone better than we could have ever hoped,” Jurovich, a South Surrey resident, said on a recent Friday afternoon.

“We’re busy, you know,” he added, “and in the wintertime we’re getting close to capacity, and from a business perspective that’s great. And our biggest driver is player development, and we’re now working with schools in Surrey and got that end of it, and we have over 350 kids playing here on a regular basis. So just getting more and more people playing tennis is what this is all about, really, the root of what we were trying to accomplish from the start.”

Six years in the planning, the $2.5 million facility is built on a 17,000-square-metre piece of leased land owned by the city, as part of a private-public partnership.

For two days in November 2015, the sound of more than a million bouncing tennis balls made a racket, so to speak, during a 42-hour marathon session organized to celebrate the centre’s grand opening. Close to 150 players hit balls under the dome that covers six indoor hard courts, for an unofficial world record for the longest and largest tennis practice.

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

Since then, the centre has begun producing some high-end players, including some who compete nationally, in an effort to build on the adult and junior programs, camps, evening socials, workshops and learn-to-play sessions offered.

“We have seven kids from our club qualified for the junior national championships on right now,” Jurovich said over spring break. “One of the girls lost in the final at nationals, in doubles, and tomorrow she’s playing for fifth in singles. So we have kids who are in the top 10 in Canada.”

Some of the young standouts are Stefanie Da Silva, Lexa Nielsen, Megan Lang-Gould and Abigeyle Bhopal, Jurovich said.

“Stefanie played Megan in the first round of the U18s in Toronto,” he reported. “They fly all the way and play each in the first round, which is kind of strange.

“Stefanie, she’s been training with us even before the club opened, at an elementary school’s courts,” he added.

“Another girl, Abigeyle, she’s born in 2008 and she’s playing in the U12 nationals, and is the number-one girl in B.C for her birth year. She’s one of the girls who started here from scratch, from the start. That’s one of our success stories, for sure.”

Surprisingly, the number of competitive tournaments played at Surrey Tennis Centre has been reduced in recent times, and there’s a reason for that.

“We have tournaments all the time, and in those first couple of years after we opened we had a goal of running 30 tournaments a year here, and we achieved that, but we just found that it was hard for the casual player, you know, because they just want to be able to book a court to play their friends on a Saturday afternoon, so having the facility full for 30 weekends a year, that’s tough. We’re now at about 18, or close to that.”

The outdoor clay courts, which attract some of those tournaments in the spring and summer months, are relatively unique in B.C.

“We were the only ones in Western Canada to have them, but they opened some at Bear Mountain last spring, I think it was, in Victoria,” Jurovich noted.

Clay courts, he explained, are expensive to install, for a couple of reasons, but the Surrey facility found a local solution.

“Clay is heavy, and you can only find the right stuff in Europe, so it’s the transportation costs that make it so not cost-effective in North America,” Jurovich said. “This clay isn’t from Europe, and that’s how we pulled if off, because we ended up finding it from a group in Victoria – an environmental group, more than anything, and they were demolishing old houses and they had all these old bricks they wanted to recycle, and they were crushing those into brick dust and using it on baseball diamonds. So we came across that and said, ‘Man, we could use that for tennis courts.’ So it worked out well, and even then the shipping cost from Victoria was more than the clay itself. We brought over around 100 tons of clay, something like 12 truck loads coming over from the Island.”

From a player-development perspective, those clay courts are a benefit, Jurovich said, because a lot of a high-level tennis is played on clay.

“So for competitive kids it’s a big advantage that they get to practice on clay, just for that comfort perspective.

“The other side of clay that’s great for development, just for the casual player, is that it slows the game down,” he added. “The ball bounces slower on clay, so the average rally is longer and it can just make the game way more enjoyable, right, because if the rally ends too quick and you’re always going to pick up the ball, that’s not good, so from the competitive end it’s more of a challenge to be skillful to finish a point, too.

“As the ball slows down you have to work the point a little bit more, more intelligently. And the last sell for a lot of people is, they say something like 80 per cent less impact injuries on clay, compared to a hard court, just because the surface is a bit softer – it’s easier on the knees and joints.”

• RELATED STORIES:

LaBeouf says learning tennis for ‘Borg/McEnroe’ like learning to dance.

Seniors serve notice about Newton tennis club, from 2016.

Student heading to Italy for wheelchair tennis world cup, from 2017.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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Coach Tom McLean, Surrey Tennis Centre’s director of high performance, speaks to young players during a practice session at the Panorama-area facility. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

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