Major tennis tournament action returns to the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College on Monday with more than 250 juniors registered to play the Georgia Open Challenger Championships.
It’s the first large tournament since the COVID-19 pandemic virtually shut down play all over the country.
Tournament referee Robert Sasseville said that both boys and girls play will take place across five different age groups from 10-and-under all the way up to 18-and-under.
Most of the competitors next week are from Georgia, however teens from as far away as Indiana have registered to play in the event which will be contested under new guidelines designed to protect player and spectator safety.
Sasseville said that all of the pairings and court assignments will be posted online so that players will not have to congregate in the clubhouse to sign in or get court assignments.
“When the matches are over, they’ll tell the umpire near the court the score and they will call it in so there’s really no interaction,” Sasseville said.
Ann Hortman with the tourism office in Rome said the USTA has developed a new app that is being tested to help make players aware of pairings and court assignments.
The first matches will go on court at 8 a.m. Monday, the next group around 10:15 a.m. and so on. Sasseville said that as each group departs, the seating will be wiped clean for the next group to come in.
“There are multiple things that we’ll be doing,” Sasseville said. “It’s definitely difficult.”
Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism Director Lisa Smith, who now oversees operation of the tennis center, said this first tournament should set the benchmark for future events.
“Obviously this is going to require more effort on our part, but we are willing to do whatever to make sure that everybody is safe,” Smith said. “We’ve done some extra precautions with our public address system, adding an FM transmitter so that people in the parking lot can hear who is playing next and which courts are ready. I think it’s going to be something we can all be proud of.”
The new indoor courts at the Rome Tennis Center will not be used during the tournament next week even if it rains.
“We are prohibited from playing indoors because of the COVID issue. We won’t do that at all this year,” Sasseville said.
Smith said that leaders across the hotel and restaurant industry are excited about the return of major tournament action that brings young players and their families to Rome.
On a related note, Sasseville said the Girls 14 & Under National Championships which had been slated for the Rome Tennis Center in August has been canceled by the USTA.
However, the Girls 16 & Under Championships have been moved from San Diego to Rome beginning Aug. 8. That means some of the top competitors who have been in Rome the last several years for the 14 & Under Championships may be back in Rome as they advance through the junior ranks.