BY Laura Rectenwald

Here’s a little secret not too many people know: Wilmington is one of the largest United States Tennis Association (USTA) league cities in the state of North Carolina. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Tennis is a fun and social outdoor sport ideal for people of all ages including seniors who want to stay active.

So how did we get to be one of the largest? Let’s see: Beautiful year-round weather perfect for tennis? Check. Active athletic community with vibrant junior and senior scenes? Check. Top-notch teaching professionals all around town? Check. Multiple court surfaces? Well grass clay and hard courts so yes check. Numerous private and public settings? Check and double check. Here on the Azalea Coast the tennis options are endless. You can play singles doubles or mixed doubles at any competitive level find professional private or group coaching at courts all across town or just have a ball and stay in shape.


Climb a Ladder

A tennis ladder is a competitive structure used by most public and private facilities to organize league play in an exciting and impartial fashion. A player’s ranking — their position on the ladder — is determined by wins and losses versus other players on the same ladder. There can be ladders for singles doubles mixed doubles juniors men and women all grouped by the players’ level of ability. If you’re interested in starting your own ladder or just want to learn more the Greater Wilmington Tennis Association (GWTA) is a great place to start. A nonprofit organization GWTA is affiliated with the United States Tennis Association and offers various leagues and ladders for area residents. It is especially involved in assisting middle school tennis programs throughout New Hanover County promoting the game of tennis as both a recreational and competitive sport. For more information call (910) 686-5457 or visit  — Jim Pfeiffer

Yona Bar-Zeev president of the Greater Wilmington Tennis Association (GWTA) a nonprofit community tennis organization affiliated with the North Carolina Chapter of the USTA has been a driving force behind the growth of tennis in our area. Since becoming involved with tennis 18 years ago he has devoted much of his time and effort to making it possible for everyone to play.

“Last year we had more than 4 500 adults playing in leagues and that’s incredible ” says Bar-Zeev. “Wilmington’s participation in leagues is five times the national average. We’re lucky because we can start to play in February when others have to wait until April. This really is the perfect location for the game.”

The GWTA founded in the early 1990s is a part of the USTA. Leagues are based on age and ability and include the very young to the very old at every imaginable skill level. With the help of the GWTA there are more than 1 000 children playing tennis in Wilmington making our after-school program one of the largest in the state. The GWTA has donated more than $20 000 in tennis equipment throughout Wilmington provided scholarships and after-school programs and garnered numerous awards for their services. With the help of the YMCA special programs are offered for children with disabilities and are free of charge. Currently the association is focusing on programs at the elementary level. “We want to see everyone benefit from playing tennis ” Bar-Zeev says.

Charlie Owens United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and United States Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR) Certified Tennis Professional — with a former top 50 world ranking — is the director of tennis at The Country Club of Landfall. Since moving to Wilmington in 2000 he has seen significant growth in the number of people playing the game in our area. “We are the most active city in the state per capita in the USTA league program ” says Owens. “I’ve had 4-year-old students and 80-year-old students.”

Holly Tree Racquet Club’s head pro Kirk Schmidt one of the busiest teaching pros in town has been in Wilmington for 13 years and is astounded by the increase in players. “People are constantly coming to the coast. Those who’ve retired come here to be a part of a good social sport and children come to learn hand-eye coordination while making friends and staying active.”

“A lot of people take up tennis because you can play it your whole life ” says Taylor Vaughn a former tennis player at UNCW and another popular instructor at Holly Tree. “It’s not a contact sport and it’s a great alternative to other sports — not to mention you can play it year-round.”


Laird Dunlop

Laird Dunlop director of tennis at Cape Fear Country Club has been a pro at this prestigious Wilmington institution for more than 20 years. A former tour pro for two years his accomplishments began early — winning both the singles and doubles boys’ 16 and under Canadian Junior National Championship — and continued from there. “I played an exhibition match out of college in North Carolina — The Battle of the Triad — and won best player in Winston-Salem ” says Dunlop who played first singles for Wake Forest University is a USPTA P-1 level player and was the 1981 ACC player of the year. On the tour he went one on one with pros like Mats Wilander who went on to win three French Open championships three Australian Open championships and one U.S. Open championship. More than 250 players are in Dunlop’s junior program at Cape Fear Country Club which has produced several regional stars including New Hanover High School’s Hanes Harris and Alan Donald. — Jim Pfeiffer

In addition to private and group lessons there are other ways in which instructors in our area are getting people involved. Cardio Tennis — a warm-up a cardio workout and a cool-down — is being taught all over the country and is a great way for players to get some practice in while working themselves into top shape.

Rod Badakhsh 5.0-rated tennis player and the director of tennis at Echo Farms Country Club says he’s always trying to do something new and innovative with the game. This summer in addition to his always-tons-of-fun camps he plans to organize a triples tournament to raise money for charity. “No one plays triples; it’s a fictional game which is why we’re going to do it ” says Badakhsh. “It really can be a lot of fun to try something different and new.”

Another local pro on the lookout for new ways to get players on the court and having fun is Jackie Jenkins tennis professional and instructor at Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation. Last year Jenkins started the Wrightsville Beach tennis ladder for women and this year is starting a men’s league. The first tennis camp for kids was held at WB Parks and Rec last year as well and allowed kids to play three or four hours in the morning for a week.

Numerous tournaments are held in our area including the Spring Junior Classic at The Country Club of Landfall the Betsy W. Lewis Tennis Challenge at Holly Tree Racquet Club (to benefit the Zimmer Cancer Center) the Pine Valley USTA Spring Fling Tournament (120 players signed up this year) the Echo Farms Clay Court Championships and one of the largest tournaments in the state the Cape Fear Junior Open held in August at Cape Fear Country Club.

With all of the clubs leagues lessons ladders tournaments pros and programs in our area there’s plenty of tennis love to go around. Whether you’re young old new to the game or a veteran of many years of match play whatever your inclinations might be Wilmington offers tennis players one indisputable truth: You won’t have to look far to find someone willing to go racquet to racquet.

What’s Your Racquet?

Wooden tennis racquets? You’re talking ancient history. The range of materials used in today’s racquet frames — from inexpensive aluminum models to graphite composites carbon-fibers and titanium — has helped to increase power comfort and precision for players across all spectrums.

Besides understanding your tennis (and athletic) ability and goals three elements should especially be considered when choosing your racquet: the weight and length the head size and the tension and gauge of the string. Okay four: price.

Racquet weight ranges from nine ounces for advanced players with a more powerful swing to more than 11 ounces for beginners who often need help with power. Lengths range from 27 to 29 inches with the shorter models used by beginners and pros alike. Strength comfort and feel factor in big when determining racquet length.

For head size consider this rule of thumb: If you’re a beginner a bigger oversized head (105 to 120 square inches) is often best. This will help add power to your game and increase the sweet spot resulting in fewer misfires. A smaller head (95 to 100 square inches) is recommended for advanced players since it demands a faster more powerful swing.

The string used has as much to do with the result of that swing as any other aspect. The two most important elements are its gauge and tension. A good racquet will list its tension range — how loose or tight the strings should be. A typical range is from 58 to 68 pounds with lower tension levels — recommended for beginners — delivering more power and less stress on the arm. Conversely higher tension levels deliver greater ball control. String gauge — its durability versus playability — ranges from 15 to 18 with 16 to 17 the most common. The lower the gauge the thicker and more durable the string. Thinner gauges offer greater feel power and spin potential. Common materials include nylon (also called synthetic gut) polyester natural gut various synthetics and Kevlar.

A good beginner’s racquet — strung — averages in the vicinity of $120. But racquets vary widely in price from “Sure son go ahead and get that one ” to “Wait a minute that can’t be right.” Ask a pro for help. — Jim Pfeiffer