Disney Clay Court Tennis Championships


It may have had a couple of long rain delays but it certainly was not a washout! The Clay Court Championships held at the new Disney's Wide World of Sports complex had its momentous opening to nice crowds, a good field of players, sunny, hot days and storming, tornado warning days. There was a mixture of everything going on ... as there is at Walt Disney World all the time.

The Disney Sports Complex To begin, the tennis complex, which had its grand opening with this event, is the newest and latest .. and one of the most attractive in design of the many stadiums around the world. Disney has taken 200 acres and created a world unto its own .. containing facilities for every conceivable sports activity. The tennis stadium court seats 5,000, all seats have great visibility. There are ten outside courts all designed with a sub-surface irrigation system consisting of FastDry SP materials. They are built to drain water rapidly ... which was a huge plus for this tournament that had several days of severe storms. The courts were ready to play soon after the rains stopped. Restrooms and concession stands are conveniently located in the tennis pavilion adjacent to the courts and there are several mobile units selling merchandise. The big fieldhouse is close by and provides comfortable shelter and protection to spectators just in case the rains do appear.

The tennis was rigorous, exciting and fun .. as always some matches better than others. There was huge disappointment when MaliVai Washington lost in the first round but that opened the field for the other tour players to show their prowess.

Tournament directors' hearts beat a little faster when Michael Chang looked as though he might be taken out by Juan Albert Viloca, but in the most exciting match of the event .. Chang pulled that one out. Later in his match against Jason Stoltenberg in the semi-finals, Chang gave another scare when he lost the first set and was down in the second. He went on to win that one also and set up the TV final that he eventually won.

Michael ChangIt was nice to watch Petr Korda, Alex O'Brien, Jason Stoltenberg, Chris Woodruff, Byron Black and Grant Stafford rise to the occasion and play some super tennis.

The crowds for the "first time event at Disney" were comfortable. The center court and grandstand matches had nice crowds for every match .. though they were not filled. With Chang in the finals on Sunday, there were only a few empty seats.

Disney World - Epcot CenterAs the word spreads about this venue, the quality of the clay courts, the fun of being at Disney, etc. it is expected that the playing field will attract some of the players who have taken off for Europe to prepare for the clay court season ... and the spectators anxious to enjoy great tennis in super surroundings while enjoying many other Disney attractions.

Just to see this Sports Complex is worth the trip. It is mind-boggling what Disney is able to create from nothing. In addition to the tennis facilities, the complex features a 7,500-seat baseball stadium, a magnificent fieldhouse that can accommodate up to six full-size basketball courts, a track and field complex, four multi-purpose fields sized for international soccer, a baseball quadraplex, a softball quadraplex, two youth baseball fields, sand beach volleyball courts, a special event area and vast locker rooms, press and training facilities.

stadium.jpg - 9.49 KDuring one of the rain delays we had the opportunity to watch the US National Wrestling Championships and were amazed to find it was fascinating. Our exposure to wrestling had been the professionals on TV and we would never call that a "sporting event" .. more just entertainment. The wrestling at Disney was outstanding. Obviously the best in the country and world in every weight bracket were there. We watched little guys, 100 lbs to the big heavyweights, do their thing. The fieldhouse was crowded with participants and onlookers, coaches and referees. Four mats were set up across the fieldhouse main floor and there was constant action in each circle. It was almost like going to the Ringling Brothers Circus. You did not know where to look first.

The participants were well-built, athletic and very determined. Male and female matches took place but we only got to see some of the men's medal round. As newcomers to these events, the action moved so fast, it was sometimes hard to follow but all in that fieldhouse knew exactly what was happening and the cheering for their favorites was loud and clear. The crowd's closeness to the action, the referee's attention to the participants and the concentration of the wrestlers in action....all demonstrated that this was no "entertainment" venue for them.

In addition to the tennis .. and the wrestling, there was also NFL Air-It-Out 4 on 4 Flag Football. Now this is an exciting event. Who knew there was a huge league of players out there. We remember playing flag football as kids when one street played another street but never realized it had grown to this stature.

Flag FootballFlag football was for kids ... well, not now. These are grown men, big grown men .. and the game can cause injuries. We watched as they tossed and tumbled trying to catch the football. A couple limped off the field with hurt knees or hips .. usually of their own doing as there is no tackling .. but they are so determined to get that ball that they flip or contort their bodies to complete the play.

In these matches, the winners of the amateur competition then played an exhibition against the NFL Pros...Steelers' Carnell Lake, Broncos' Terrel Davis, Rams' Isaac Bruce and Jaguars' Jimmy Smith.

You know some of the other activities at Disney .. the several theme parks, the water parks, a new miniature golf course ....Pleasure Island, the new Disney Marketplace and restaurants for every taste, style and pocketbook.

This year is a momentous one for Disney, now celebrating its 25th anniversary with special activities where-ever you turn .. the Cinderella Castle has been turned into a huge anniversary birthday cake .. the Disney Institute offers fun "classes" .. and the major opening of its brand new Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex brings a new kind of excitement to the area.

chang2.jpg - 10.83 KWe have never seen anything to compare with this and are sure you will find many things to enjoy when you come to watch your favorite tennis players take the court. One of the surprises for us was the absence of Mickey or any of the usual Disney merchandising icons. Mickey, Minnie and Goofie were never present at the Sports Complex and did not even appear for the awards ceremony.

Though merchandise can be bought at the complex, it was only sports oriented. The baseball stadium shop had Atlanta Braves uniforms, bats, bails, etc, and there were lots of T-shirt with "Disney's Wide World of Sports" logo. The tennis complex had all the usual "Disney Clay Court Championships" logo on just about everything but the typical paraphernalia sold at the hotels and amusement parks was not to be found.

When we attempted to get some photos of the tennis players involved in some of the Disney activities .. parks, rides, etc. the response was a polite ... we would rather not .. so we could never arrange the photo-shoot. In some ways, we think encouraging these types of photos would be a plus, as one of the attractions of having the matches at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex is the fact that you do have available all these other activities for spouses and children.

Reggie Williams, Vice President of Walt Disney World Sports, is striving to maintain this as a premier sports destination for athletes and spectators. More than 30 individual and team sports are already scheduled. There are activities 365 days a year.

Setting your calendar for next year? Be sure to mark the week of April 20,1998 to be at the Clay Court Championships at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. We shall be there and would look forward to seeing you.

The Epcot Center / Living Seas

© 1997 Alese & Morton Pechter
E-mail: 73517.257@compuserve.com

Web design and graphics by: Palm Beach Online