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Tourney tries to elevate tennis

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ALBANY -- Donna Friedlander would like Albany to serve a greater helping of tennis.

That was her motivation Saturday as the Albany Tennis Association's president while hosting a city-wide tourney for the first time at Pine Forest Racquet Club, Grand Island Club and Stonebridge Golf & Country Club.

As 70 competitors played Saturday, Friedlander said at least the tournament was a start to increasing interest. She, however, feels there is a long way to go.

"Most people don't realize that tennis is a sport they will play for the rest of their lives," she said. "The fact that tennis competes with so many other sports, though, is a problem. The children, once they get hooked on to something like soccer or football, they don't usually turn to tennis."

Although grass-roots activities like "QuickStart" and other junior activities are trying to give tennis a greater presence, Friedlander talked more about tennis' challenges in Albany.

"If we had a tennis center like they do in Bainbridge, it would be a different type of program here," Friedlander said. "Another thing that is hurting us is the economy."

According to Friedlander, only two multi-court complexes are public -- those at Tift Park and Darton College. Another challenge is the lack of any marquee men's players. Although sisters Venus and Serena Williams have high profiles, it's arguable that no male U.S. player has had a huge marketing impact on the sport since Andre Agassi.

"The U.S. doesn't have the players for kids to look up to," Friedlander said. "We don't want to put those pro players on a pedestal, but we would like there to be players kids can look up to and want to be like."

Although Friedlander said they do hold activities at Darton, and that the Albany Recreation & Parks Department helps out however it can, she would like to see a public tennis center here more than anything.

"We want people to get involved, and it would help even more if Darton had a tennis team like it did years ago," Friedlander said. "But for now, we encourage people to go to Tift Park, get some tennis balls and just go out and have fun. If they want to play on a team, we cam work out something."

Meanwhile, on Saturday, William Hutto -- who lives just outside of Camilla -- said he enjoys playing the sport he took up two years ago.

"It's good for the community and good for the kids," he said. "It keeps kids off the streets and out of trouble."

Speaking of youth, 17-year-old Joseph Bjerreggard of Leesburg has played tennis for nine years. Even he realizes the need for more tennis in Albany.

"It's really important because, especially below Macon, tennis is really weak down here," Bjerreggard said.