It took some time, but the Evansville Tennis Center has lifted off nicely on the northeast side of the city.
The huge metal building at 5428 Davis Lant Drive has a mezzanine and some space for spectators. It has been open since October 2012 and is adorned with a large sign on the back of the building facing Lynch Road near N. Green River Road.
Inside, there is a high-level feel to the main part of the building, which houses six courts that meet the specifications of the United States Tennis Association for sanctioned events. They are blue courts, just like you’d see at the U.S. Open. Called championship (level) courts, you certainly couldn’t argue if you’re looking at them under the brilliant LED lighting system.
“It’s all LED lighting, which is the best in the country available now,” says Anna Hazlett, who has been the driving force behind the Evansville Tennis Center. “We shouldn’t have to replace a bulb for four years.”
Hazlett is the general manager at ETC, that grew from the passing of Advantage Court and Fitness, which was torn down with the demolition of the parking garage at the old Executive Inn Hotel in Downtown Evansville.
But she also has been a major force in the development of tennis in the area, in general, for years.
A lifelong tennis player and coach, Hazlett’s family opened Advantage with three indoor courts to give families other tennis playing options. Some top juniors also came from the Advantage programs.
Brenna Wu grew up playing at Advantage. The 18-year-old teamed with Macie Elliott to win the Indiana High School Athletic Association state doubles championship for Reitz Memorial High School back in June in Indianapolis.
“I started playing when I was 10 at Advantage,” Wu said. “Advantage to most of us was another home.”
Helping to provide more indoor courts and continuing to develop more junior tennis programs also pushed Hazlett to get the ETC built. Hazlett and the Evansville Community Tennis Association worked to raise funds for the ETC.
“It was very important to me personally to see more courts built in Evansville, to give the next generation a chance to play tennis,” Hazlett said. “My personal mission is to get Evansville ready for (this) century because we’re lacking in courts. Part of the mission statement of ECTA is to grow tennis. It’s very hard to do that if we don’t have enough courts.”
Hazlett and her family have long been involved with the ECTA, and they have coordinated fundraising efforts for many years to both build and maintain courts in the city. “We have always worked with the ECTA over the years we have fund-raised with them,” Hazlett said.
ECTA has been heavily involved in the refurbishment of the 12 outdoor courts at the Wesselman Tennis Center at Wesselman Park. ECTA maintains ETC Wesselman with private money, but Wesselman is for public use.
The Women’s Hospital 2013 Classic was played at ETC Wesselman. That facility also hosted more than 200 young players in junior programs. “A lot of our programming and camps were done at Wesselman, and a lot of our leagues are at Wesselman, because those championships are all outside,” Hazlett said.
There are a significant number of league participants, which led to the decision to build six courts at Evansville Tennis Center instead of four. The public can also use the facility via membership or day passes. “We ended up building six courts mainly because of our leagues,” Hazlett said.
Having six courts means the ETC is able to attract more college tournaments, and they may be used as rain backup courts for the Women’s Hospital Classic, the USTA Pro Circuit event held each July that helps young women earn points to qualify for higher-level tours.
The ETC’s busiest months now will be in December, January, and February. There are plans for outdoor courts to be built, but funds will have to be raised first.
“It’s very important to have that bigger space,” Wu says. “It’s nice to know if it rains or is cold that we have a place for us.”
What is in place now had an estimated price tag of between $2.2 million and $2.5 million, all of which was privately raised.
“Any people who come in and support any of our programming, or our membership, are helping pay the debt load down on this so we can continue to build more courts in Evansville,” Hazlett said.
As with the former Advantage tennis facility, it is expected that a good number of junior players will be developed at the new ETC. The latest among those, and part of the first group to use the new courts, were Elliott and Wu. Besides her state doubles championship title, Elliott also has won an IHSAA state singles title in 2011.
Elliott is playing tennis at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Wu is playing for the University of Southern Indiana. Both women are freshmen.
Displayed in the ETC is a collection of photographs and biographical information on some of the top junior players who have gone through the ECTA program. Chandler Marshall, who graduated from Henderson County, Ky., High School, was another prominent senior who signed with the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.
Stephanie Hazlett, Anna’s daughter, works with most of the higher-level junior players. She has traveled to Texas and Boca Raton, Fla., with Lukas Greif from Newburgh, who plays at ETC and is one of the top 50 ranked players nationally in the boys’ 14 division.
Wu will continue to practice and workout at ETC, which is a facility that USI uses. She was overjoyed to be among the first group of juniors.
“They had a big opening, and ETC asked us to help with little kid lessons and things like that,” Wu said. “When I got in there the first time, I was literally jumping up and down, I was so excited. I kept thinking ‘Evansville has another place where tennis can thrive, and people are going to love it.”
For more information about the Evansville Tennis Center, call 812-401-6060 or visit evansvilletennis.net.