There's been a lot of hoopla over the "success" of the D.C. National Tennis Classic, but perhaps we should look at what was sacrificed in order for this tournament to become "bigger and better."
First, the clay courts. Several beautiful clay courts were paved over with rubberized asphalt. The fact is, the resurfacing project benefits only a handful of professional tennis players for one week out of the year. Overlooked are the hundreds of recreational players for whom the Rock Creek tennis facility was built by the U.S. government. These taxpaying amateur players, almost without exception, prefer playing on clay because it is easy on the feet and slows down the ball so that everyone has a chance to succeed. In short, clay is a great equalizer. These people feel betrayed by the rush to build a hard-court stadium on what they regard as the people's turf.
Second, the natural, tranquil setting free from commercialization. The public has been led to believe that the creation of a stadium at the Carter-Barron facility at 16th and Kennedy streets, expected to seat 7,000, is a huge plus for Washington tennis. The reality is that this stadium complex has gobbled up a rather large chunk of recreational space needed by soccer enthusiasts, softball players and amateur tennis players who couldn't care less about who is ranked in what place on the computer ladder.
It is now clear that the Rock Creek Stadium plan was railroaded through before the approval of agencies, particularly the National Capital Planning Commission and the Fine Arts Commission, which are empowered to sanction proposals dealing with the alteration of public land. The two groups that railroaded the stadium project through are the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation and Donald Dell's sports management firm, Pro-Serv Inc.
I am suspicious of the motives of both these groups. For example:
Pro-Serv, which was instrumental in pushing through the renovation, also runs the tournament. Furthermore, several of the players, including Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors, are clients of Pro-Serv.
The Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides free tennis lessons and racquets to underprivileged children, became involved in accelerating the renovation; as a result, they developed a dubious cozy relationship with Pro-Serv, a for-profit organization.
Furthermore, the government agencies, which are supposedly in the business of protecting public land from commercial exploitation, have not been aggressive enough in blocking proposals.
Another subject of interest: the division of the revenue generated by gate receipts. The Tennis Patrons receive about $100,000 from the profits. However, the take from gate receipts is about 10 times that amount.
The D.C. Tennis Classic has been aggressively promoted as the end-all and be-all of tennis in Washington. And the line has been pushed that junior tennis will collapse from lack of funds if the stadium is not built. This is nonsense. There is oodles of money around to support junior tennis and to get underprivileged children involved in the game. It's just a matter of tapping the right source.
The other line that has been pushed is that the shift from clay to hard surface will result in top-ranked players' flocking to Washington in droves in order to prepare for the U.S. Open. This is unlikely. While a handful of leading pros will be attracted by the hard surface, most prefer to prepare for the U.S. Open at well-established tournaments in the cool mountain areas of Stowe, Vt., and North Conway, N.H. The players who come here in July do so reluctantly. They want to acquire some Brownie points on the pro tour, but they don't enjoy the insufferable heat and humidity.
What we have here essentially is a land grab that has altered the character of property designated for use by the public.
-- Burling Lowrey