The Junior Tennis Champions Center at College Park aims to offer the young athletes it trains a chance to become just that — champions.
While by definition it's a regional training center, Patrick McEnroe, general manager of player development for the United States Tennis Association, calls it "national in its own scope" and says it's "one of the biggest and one of the best."
The Tennis Center at College Park is the site of the Citi Open, a WTA international women's professional tennis tournament that begins Saturday and runs through July 31. But for much of the year the facility's main focus is on buiding future professionals.
McEnroe — a former professional tennis player and the brother of tennis legend John McEnroe — says the goal of the 20 regional training centers in the country is "to win Grand Slams and have as many [players] into the top 100 as we can."
The best way to accomplish that is to get more youngsters on the court.
"We in the U.S. need to do a better job of attracting more kids to play tennis at a young age," McEnroe said. "And we need to do a better job kind of getting them into the competitive pathways as young as possible and make it fun.
"The JTCC really set the bar."
Some of the young players who have trained at the JTCC include Ellicott City's Beatrice Capra, who advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open last summer, Dennis Kudla, who advanced to the championship of the U.S. Open boys event in 2010, and Mitchell Frank, who's been ranked as high as fifth in the world among juniors.
To draw more players, the JTCC puts on annual tennis festivals, which have been so successful that the USTA is trying to encourage all its regional training centers to do the same.
"We have some strong [regional training centers] throughout the country, but in terms of a top to bottom program from grassroots to athletic recruitment to the development of older players, [the JTCC is] still the golden standard," said Martin Blackman, the USTA's senior director for talent identification and development, who served as director of the JTCC from 2004 to 2008.
The 27-court JTCC opened in 1999. It was built by Maryland-native Ken Brody, who wanted to create "a mini federation in Maryland to develop juniors from scratch," Blackman said. The facility was inspired by the player development and mentoring programs in the Czech Republic, which produced stars like Ivan Lendl andMartina Navratilova.
The USTA provides grants for the best programs throughout the country,and after taking his current position with the USTA and McEnroe — whom he played tennis with at Stanford University — Blackman decided to use the College Park model as a prototype.
"They train lots of juniors who we feel are going to be the future of American tennis," Blackman said.
The Citi Open, a Women's Tennis Association international-level event will be played at The Tennis Center At College Park from July 23-31. The event was moved to College Park after funding slowed for The Troy Park Tennis and Sports Center, a multi-use athletic park in Elkridge that was planned to host the event.
Some notable names expected to participate in the tournament include Shahar Peer (ranked 22nd in the world), former world No. 5 Anna Chakvetadze, 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin and Jelena Dokic, who has won six career WTA singles titles.
For tickets, visit http://www.citiopentennis.com.