If you’ve wondered what level of pro tennis players come to Rome’s tennis center, look no farther than the hallowed courts of Wimbledon.
Georgia’s Rome Challenger, a USTA pro circuit event, will be at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College beginning Sunday and will bring elite level players from around the world.
“These are players ranked 150-200 in the world and having that in Rome is amazing,” said Colt Gaston, general manager of the tennis center. “To put that into perspective, the winner of our recent women’s event (Tatjana Maria) is now into the semifinals of Wimbledon. We forget that many of the big time players we see on television got their start at challenger events like this one.”
Maria, who won the Georgia’s Rome Tennis Open in February, advanced to the semifinals of Wimbledon this week for the first time. The German pro, who advanced with a victory over her countrywoman Julie Niemeier, is ranked 103rd in the world and last year gave birth to her second child.
“I have goosebumps everywhere,” Maria told the Los Angeles Times.
“I think for me that’s the most important in my life, to be a mom of my two kids. Nothing will change this. I’m here, yeah, I’m in the semifinal of Wimbledon, it’s crazy, but I’m still a mom. After this I will go out over there and I will see my kids and I will do the same thing what I do every single day. I will change her Pampers, I mean, everything normal. I try to keep normal as much as possible, because that was what makes me proudest is to be a mom.”
As the world’s most prestigious tournament wraps up this week, the Challenger here in Rome will get started. The tournament at the 57-court facility will feature top ranked players competing on indoor hard courts for over $50,000 in prize money and ATP ranking points.
This tournament will feature a number of rising American stars just a week ahead of the Atlanta Open, an ATP 250 event. This will be the third professional tournament hosted in 2022 at Rome Tennis Center.
Not only is this a great way to get up close and personal with top-tier players, Gaston said, but there are economic benefits for Rome and Floyd County as well.
“These players will come in with their coaches, their spouse, their trainers, and they’ll have fans who come to town just to cheer them on,” he said. “You’re looking at a great number of hotels being booked up and of course they’ll be eating out at restaurants. I’d say at this level they’ll probably spend a little more money than players at the average tournament we host, which is still a lot.”
But the biggest economic impact Gaston sees from this upcoming tournament is visitors traveling to Rome to witness this level of tennis, which can’t be seen just anywhere.
“We’ve already got people calling and traveling from Alabama, Tennessee, even people visiting from California,” he said.
And he knows what he’s talking about. Gaston himself has played at the highest levels of the sport and remembers what a great feeling it is for players to see lots of spectators in the stands.
“This could be a really big thing for our city,” he said. “If we make these players feel welcome they’ll come back. Other tournaments will come. But we have to show them a good time and show them what a great host Rome can be.”
“We can never have enough volunteers and ball kids,” he said. “I remember watching this level of tennis when I was a kid and it changed my life. It’s very motivating. So I encourage everyone to come out and see. Even if tennis isn’t your sport. There’s still a very high level of athleticism, work ethic, training, coaching and fitness that’ll be on display.”
To volunteer for the Georgia’s Rome Challenger, which runs July 10-17, visit online at RomeProChallenge.com/ball-person-registration and RomeProChallenge.com/volunteers to sign up for time slots to be a ball person or to volunteer in another capacity.
“We’ll provide food, drinks and T-shirt to our volunteers,” Gaston said. “You’ll see top level tennis up close and you’ll be a part of making this a great event for Rome.”