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In Atlanta, the recreational tennis event of the summer (almost) overshadows pro action
For players in ALTA’s popular rec leagues, the season culminated on the same courts that featured the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Coco Gauff.
Published Aug 01, 2022
WATCH: A day after ALTA City finals wrapped up at Atlantic Station, Alex de Minaur defeated Jenson Brooksby in his own Atlanta Open final
ATLANTA, Ga. — In Midtown’s Atlantic Station complex, home to the 250-level Atlanta Open, a player lunges for a forehand winner during a dramatic doubles match, and fires it down the line. The crowd of spectators beside the court erupted in applause.
There was not a single ATP Tour player on court during an overcast morning in Atlanta, with the pro tournament’s semifinals set for later in the day. Instead, it was time for recreational mixed doubles league players to take center stage at the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association’s (ALTA) City Finals.
While the city boasts a week-long spot on the ATP calendar, there’s tennis on tap all year long in Atlanta. The Southern metropolis is the USTA’s biggest league-playing city in the country, and it’s also home to the country’s largest grassroots tennis organization, ALTA.
Founded in 1934 to promote the sport, ALTA started organizing league play in 1971 and now boasts more than 60,000 members. Atlantans enjoy playing in ALTA leagues for the social aspect as much as the fierce competition, and so the City Finals then becomes both a showcase of some best amateur players in the metro area and the hottest event in the city’s tennis calendar.
The fact that, for some, the season culminates here, on the same courts that have featured the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Coco Gauff is an extra treat.
“There’s teams that definitely strive towards this,” said Rita Maloof, president of the ALTA Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm. “One of my friends who plays on one of the AA teams that wasn't here today was like, ‘Oh, man, what do we have to do to get there next year!’”
Watching the mixed doubles action at Atlantic Station, it was easy to see why with some of the amateur matches occasionally drawing more attendance than the early rounds featuring the actual ATP pros.
The bulk of the audience is, of course, the extended friends and family members of the competing players, as well as fellow ALTA players and members. The players call their own lines, but at the City Finals, the matches are attended by volunteer ball kids, courtesy of the Atlanta Open.
“It almost makes you feel like you’re a pro yourself, but you can’t think that way during the matches,” said Christopher “CJ” Antonio, a player for the ‘Terrell Mill TC’ team who lost a tight mixed doubles match. An Atlanta native who played college tennis at Oglethorpe University, Antonio is a tennis instructor at an area country club who plays in ALTA leagues for a taste of competition.
He and his doubles partner Anastasia Grosheva, a graduate research assistant at Georgia State University, were playing together for the first time on Saturday. They didn’t have the biggest support section, but Grosheva’s group were certainly cheering the loudest.
“These are actually my students from GSU,” she said. “They heard I was playing today and they came out to support me, which I’m super happy about. I haven’t been playing in ALTA for long, so to play the City Finals is already a very cool experience.”
With leagues for youth, adults and seniors, players across various ages have been competing at Atlantic Station for eight years. The ATP 250 tournament moved to this venue back in 2012, and with some of the world’s best players being showcased at Atlanta’s biggest tennis tournament, the city’s biggest tennis league was a natural partner.
“During the Atlanta Open, the ALTA Foundation presents our scholarships,” said foundation president Maloof. “The winners of our scholarships get to be presented on center court during the tournament. It's something that they always look forward to, they get their names announced on court and everything.
“We also work a lot with special populations, and with kids at ‘Title I’ high schools to provide support for their tennis teams. Our focus is always to meet the needs and to grow tennis here in Atlanta.”
At Atlantic Station, the league’s “AA3” players are contesting their final matches, while finals for players of other skill levels were held at various spots in and around the city. Some of the players have professional aspirations, while others are targeting a potential college scholarship—but most simply enjoy tennis as a hobby and want to push themselves to their highest level.
It’s almost like a real-life version of that meme that goes around every four years, about how every event at the Olympic Games should have an “average” person competing alongside for reference. If the quality of the tennis and the volume of support on display at ALTA City Finals is anything to go by, tennis fans probably wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.