The University of Alberta has opened its new year-round tennis facility.
The Saville Tennis Centre houses six new tennis courts in an air-supported bubble near the Saville Community Sports Centre.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Russ Sluchinski, tennis program lead at the University of Alberta.
Sluchinski believes the new space will make the university a candidate for more elite tennis events and attract local tennis talent.
“The events that we’re able to hold will be very positive for recruiting,” he added. “There’s a lack of opportunity until now for people who just want to get involved with tennis to come out and get involved.
“And this facility is going to provide that. [It’s] a very unique situation to have a facility like this that doesn’t have a membership associated with it.”
During dome season (September to May), the centre will be pay-and-play for the public. In the summer, it will revert to outdoor, members-only courts.
The new facility was built with funding from long-time philanthropist Bruce Saville and the Tennis Canada Year-Round Community Tennis Courts Program.
According to Tennis Canada, the facility will serve more than 1.5 million players and add 595 hours of court time in Edmonton each week.
“It’s a great initiative, we need more of these type facilities across the country. What’s happening here today is really special,” said Daniel Nestor, Canadian doubles tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist.
Nestor was in Edmonton for the opening on Thursday. He said the new “bubble” is one of the best he’s seen and will offer local players more opportunities.
“A lot of our kids that are aspiring to be top tennis players don’t have the opportunity to play at clubs that might have bubbles, or private clubs and all that, because of the expense,” Nestor said. “[This will] allow kids to play at a lower cost and to fulfill their dreams.”
The new centre raises the number of year-round courts at the university from eight to 14.
“It’s amazing,” said Emma Rutherford, Pandas tennis captain. “It gives the varsity team a lot more opportunities to practice, to compete, to host more tournaments. But it also means a lot for the tennis community in general here in Edmonton.
“There’s a lot of juniors that grew up watching us play, and just so many programs and just not enough tennis courts. So it means a lot to everyone.”
The U of A Pandas tennis team recently won its fourth consecutive national championship.
At the grand opening Thursday, players spent some time testing their skills in rallies with eight-time Grand Slam doubles champion Nestor.
“It was a really good experience. I haven’t really ever got to play with a professional tennis player before,” first-year Pandas player Katie Juchymenko said. “It was just really cool to play with someone I’ve been watching for a long time.”
Tennis Canada reported last year that the country had just 750 covered courts.
The organization aims to build 160 covered courts across Canada in the next seven years.
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s David Ewasuk