Tennis players from across the country have converged on Dothan for the USTA Boys 14 National Championships on clay in what is sure to be a tough tournament starting on Sunday and stretching over eight days.
Just breaking into the 192-man field that includes singles and doubles competitions was a feat in itself.
“We had 254 entries for the 192 positions, so it’s very prestigious and very difficult to enter,” said tournament administrator Beverly Shields. “We have six of the top 10 players in the country and nine of the 15, so very high quality.
“They come from all parts of the country. We have a lot of players from California, a lot from the northeast, a lot from Florida, from Texas…really very diverse geographically.
Three venues will be used during the tournament: Westgate Tennis Center, Azalea Swim & Tennis Club and Dothan Country Club.
“We used to have a National 14 here, but never such a big draw,” Shields said. “It was more of a regional tournament at the time. It was called a national, but there were places in different parts of the country that all held the same tournament. It is the one and only national championship on clay for 14-year-old boys.
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There are 34 clay courts available for the tournament: 20 at the WTC, nine at Azalea and five at the DCC.
“We run several tournaments a year where we use all three venues,” Shields said. “Most of them are big adult league tournaments.
“I would emphasize the teamwork aspect between the facilities and the staff. Leisure Services and Visit Dothan have such a good working relationship that we rely on them for a lot of labor and support. It’s just a great relationship to bring these gigantic events to Dothan.
Shields said entry involved a number of factors determined by officials at the United States Tennis Association‘s national campus in Orlando.
“It’s kind of a complicated system,” Shields said. “The top 16 players in the country get automatic entry if they choose to play. Then there were qualifying tournaments all over the country that took the winner and runners-up from each of those tournaments and offered them a entrance… it’s still eight players.
“And then they went to the standings to get, I think, 46 or 47 more. Then it falls into a quota system so that every section is represented. We have 15 different sections across the country represented in our tournament.
“To allow players from all of these different sections to have the opportunity at this level to compete nationally against other sections, they have a quota system so that a certain number of players from each section are allowed in. , so their ranking doesn’t necessarily hold them in. It’s a very complicated entry process.
Each player has the possibility of playing several matches.
“For something of this magnitude where people are flying from California to Alabama for this tournament, you don’t want to give them a one-and-done,” Shields said. “It’s a bit hard to swallow.
“If they lose in the main draw, they go into a consolation (support). If they were to lose the first round singles (main draw) and the first round consolation, they would enter a second consolation called the bronze consolation. They have the ability to play multiple matches even after a loss.
“In doubles, there is a consolation for people who lose their first match. They will have a guarantee of two doubles matches. We encourage every player to play doubles, but there are a few who only focus on singles.
Around the middle of the tournament, if things go according to schedule, the remaining matches will take place at the Westgate Tennis Center. If weather becomes a factor, the format and schedule could change, but that would be directed by USTA officials.
“If the weather holds, we’ll probably be moving to Westgate on day five,” Shields said. “We will bring him in next Sunday. We always try to keep the same format, which means if the match goes to three full sets, we would like to keep it to three full sets.
“If there’s a format change due to weather issues where we just can’t do it, they would change the format, but that’s a last resort.”
The tournament is expected to be a financial boon for businesses in the region with overall spending estimated at $1 million for visitors.
Singles play begins at 8 a.m. daily, followed by doubles play which ends around 6 p.m. The event is open to the public and free for spectators.