LAKE NONA, Fla. – We're at the start of tennis season and the Australian Open starts in just a few days, so what better way to prepare than to get an inside look at a state-of-the-art facility that spans 64 acres.
It's unique because pros and community members can train in the same place, tuning Lake Nona into tennis heaven.
"I love it. I love it and I'm glad it's in my backyard. At my age, it's keeping me going -- the energy level, the classes are amazing. There are so many to choose from," Shannon Connole said.
She decided to come back to the sport after being away for 14 years.
Two years ago, the United States Tennis Association National Campus opened its doors with a new facility that features 100 tennis courts that cater to all ages and players.
"Our goal is really simple. We want to expose tennis to as many people as possible and get them playing this incredible lifetime sport. The facility is open to the public. There's no membership fees. You can play two hours of doubles for 5 bucks a person, basically," Kurt Kamperman, chief executive of USTA, said.
USTA head professional coach Ben Zaiser said people of all skill levels come to the campus.
"It's fun. It's active, it's athletic, it's engaging. It's a great way to meet other people. We've seen a huge growth in the amount of people who are engaged with the sport. We have a lot of new players here at the campus -- it's exciting," Zaiser said.
For Luidgi Fauvert, visiting the USTA facility is a family affair.
"My wife and I wanted to do something together. We wanted to play a sport that we could both interact and then for our kids, what not better to get them moving and a sport that quite frankly, when we get older, we can actually play with them. This isn't a sport that really has an age limit. As long as you can, you can keep playing into your 70s, 80s even your 90s," Fauvert said.
The USTA is not just for locals. During the course of the year, about 600 pros come to the facility to train, so you just might get a glimpse of some star power.
"Madison Keys was a U.S. Open finalist, top 10 in the world. Francis Tiafoe, who at 19 took Roger Federer to five sets at the U.S. Open. Cici Bellis, Jack Sock has trained here," Kamperman said.
Kamperman said a bold vision led to the creation of this facility, which turned out to be a grand slam in the world of tennis.
"This is gonna impact tennis throughout the world but nowhere more importantly than right here in Orlando," Kamperman said.
It's the only facility of its kind in the country.
"University of Central Florida, men and women, their home matches are played here in our collegiate center. We have about 120 programs a week here and that's for all ages and abilities. If you play a lot or you've never played before, we've got a program for you," Kamperman said.
USTA partnered with Nemours Children's Hospital to make the sport accessible to families, too, through the Nemours Family Zone, where parents can bring their kids to play some tennis. The equipment and courts are designed for children and as long as the courts are available, they can play for free.
For the USTA, inclusion is a big part of the mission.
"We have a Buddy Up clinic for Down syndrome athletes. We have an acing autism clinic for autistic athletes. We've had Special Olympic programs, programs that we work in conjunction with the Orlando police department. One of the most gratifying things we do each week is, on Monday night we have a clinic for veterans. A lot of these men and women have served our country. Tennis is really part of their rehab for really getting back to themselves," Kamperman said.
The USTA's charitable arm, the USTA Foundation, is currently working with underserved children in the Orlando community to change lives through tennis and education. It's the belief of the USTA Foundation that everyone deserves the chance to be a part of tennis, a lifelong sport.
For information about upcoming events and hours, click here.