Even the washing machine and dryer have been working overtime this week during the Boys’ 14 USTA National Clay Court Championships at the Westgate Tennis Center.
“When it starts raining and you’re in the middle of a match, you grab your tennis racket and your bag and go,” tournament director Hubie Casey said. “A lot of players don’t remember to grab their towel if it’s on the fence. And then the trainers use towels for ice and ice bags for the players who are having ailments.
“So yeah, we do have to do laundry. We also use the towels to dry puddles on the courts. You can lay a towel in the middle of a puddle and that towel will dry it off. Then you go spray it (towel) off with a hose to try and get as much of the dirt and clay out as you can and then you wash it and dry it.”
Rain delays have hampered the week-long tournament which has brought in players from throughout the country to Dothan.
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But Casey said the clay courts of the WTC have held up well and play continued Friday afternoon after rain postponed the early and mid-morning matches.
“There’s a three-inch base there with one-inch of clay and then two inches of gravel and sand,” Casey described of the courts. “They take the water pretty good, but it takes about an hour, or an hour-and-a-half, to get everything back up this time of year.
“We’ve been getting a rain shower about every four or five hours, so we get a little bit of play in, then stop, then get a little bit of play in. The wind, and the sun, and the cloud cover and all of that have a big part in whether it (drying) gets done quickly. If it stays cloudy and moist, it takes a little bit longer.”
By playing into the night, the schedule is also still on track to conclude Sunday with the championship matches in both singles and doubles competition.
“We had to cancel the doubles one evening because of time … you can’t put them on the court after 8 o’clock at night and then let them play the next morning,” Casey said. “You have to give them a certain rest period, and in this kind of heat, you probably need to do even more than that sometimes.
“We’ve got to catch up on the doubles, so we’re trying. If we can get seven or eight hours of no rain we can get back on schedule. And when you’re this far into the schedule, you don’t have as many matches to play in a day, so that’s helped.”
When rain delays happen, communicating with the players to get them back to the court is crucial.
“There is a program that we use and it’s been very successful,” Casey said. “They just send out a text message to all the phones that you need. We can communicate through the computer system and the cell phones.
“That’s not to say that out of all the matches we put on … which is probably 450 to 500 matches over eight days … that’s there’s not one or two that might not get the message or something, or their network may be having issues at a certain time. That kind of thing can happen, but it’s less than five percent of the time.”
Besides the rain, sweltering temperatures have made it challenging on the players.
“I even played some doubles last week and I usually don’t get soaking wet, and I was soaking wet,” Casey said. “I didn’t have a dry stitch on me and I usually don’t sweat that bad and it was 30 minutes in. You’re looking at the heat index and everything else and it’s tough … it’s like playing with a wool blanket (on).”
Two other tennis facilities – Dothan Country Club and Azalea Swim & Tennis Club – were used earlier in the week before all matches shifted to the Westgate Tennis Center for the rest of the tourney.
However, if needed, the DCC and Azalea can still be utilized.
“We may have the case if we have too much rain, we may need to catch up,” Casey said of using more than one facility. “Some of the matches are required to be chaired (by umpires), so moving chairs over there (DCC and Azalea) is a logistic thing and we try to keep those chaired matches here.”
Casey is proud to be part of the staff at WTC, which is experienced in putting on big tournaments.
“You have a lot of people come together for a common goal … we even have some unbelievable volunteers that come out to work just to be part of the system,” Casey said. “We can get a lot done in a little period of time.
“I think that’s one of the things we’re most proud of. This staff … there’s really no words to describe how excellent and what a high-performance bunch it is.”