Monday, March 12, 2007

An Interview: Doug Verdieck

It's no secret that tennis isn't a thriving sport in Seattle. There are few public courts to play on, fewer rain-free days to allow it and ample amounts of wilderness and - er, coffee? - to distract Seattleites from the game of love.

Yet for a few in this city, tennis is a daily passion. That crowd includes Doug Verdieck, Director of Tennis at the Seattle Tennis Club. A lifelong player, coach and advocate of the game of tennis.

While tennis might not be drawing as many fans as the Seahawks or Mariners (we might have the Sonics beat, though) the STC is a healthy and vibrant club. With over 3,000 members, the club has an eight-year wait list to gain membership. It features 19 courts, including six indoors and three green clay. As one of the oldest in the country, the club sits on the picturesque shore of Lake Washington in the middle of urban Seattle. Two past USTA presidents have been STC members, something few tennis clubs in the US can claim.

I sat down a couple weeks ago with Verdieck to discuss tennis in the Northwest, the ups and downs of today's American pros and how junior tennis has evolved over the years.

Q: How has tennis changed over the past couple of decades in the Pacific Northwest? In Seattle?
DV: "Tennis in the Pacific Northwest has dramatically grown. My father was the coach of the University of Redlands tennis team when I was growing up, and when we came up here (Seattle) in the late '60s there were virtually no indoor courts...it was just a summer activity. With more indoor courts in the region, you allow more people to participate year-round. Amy Yee is the only indoor public facility in the city right now, and it's overcrowded. I know that they're looking to build more indoor courts around the city. That is the key: more public places to play inside."

Q: Why have the number of top-notch American professionals fallen in recent years?
DV: "To me, college tennis is the minor leagues for the pro game. We are seeing more and more international players flocking to these American colleges and taking spots that typically used to go to US kids. Colleges are recruiting internationally to stay competitive. The fact is, the best athletes in the US aren't turning to tennis. Younger international players are seeing tennis as a way to get out of their countries, and a lot of times they are more disciplined and harder workers than the tennis players here."

Q: How has junior tennis changed as a result of international competition and growing pressures from parents?
DV: "It's harder now for junior players to practice together because our nation is so big. For players to get better, they have to compete at a high level. It's difficult for top-level high school players to get that practice because they can't practice with college players due to NCAA regulations. That's frustrating. The goal is have a locally-developed, stable, family-centered environment and bring the players together around that. That's hard to find."

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