The North Shore Tennis Center soon may no longer be “Miami Beach’s Best Kept Secret”. Starting Sunday, the ITF Seniors Tennis Championship comes to town and the spotlight will be on North Shore. Over 600 players from 40 countries are expected, as are thousands of spectators.
The two-week event should be a treat for tennis fans. Martin van Daalen, Director of Programming for the North Shore Tennis Center said, “You get a lot of international players from all over the world. [Countries] send the best seniors that they have.” Given the size of the event, early matches will also be played at the Flamingo Park Tennis Center and the Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne but the finals will all be played at North Shore. Age groups include 50, 55, and 60. Entry is free to the community.
The tournament has only been in the U.S. three times before, but van Daalen said the ITF has an option for two more years here if all goes well, something that hasn’t happened before. “Miami Beach is a huge draw,” he said. “Think about the time of year. It’s winter in many countries. Who doesn’t want to come to Miami Beach in November?” Van Daalen said the Beach is such a draw that he expects to see “some former pros, presidents from federations. They want to be part of it and they’re showing up as well.”
Another attraction for the ITF is a planned renovation for the Center, which is expected to start early next year. There will be an enclosed and air conditioned observation area, a café with a deck overlooking the courts, a practice wall twice as big as the current one, and new restrooms. Meanwhile, the Tennis Center has been getting a bit of sprucing up for the tournament (above). New platforms will be in place for bleachers and benches and landscaping is being redone. “It will be completely different for the tournament,” van Daalen said.
He’s excited about what the tournament will bring, not only to the Tennis Center but what it will contribute to the City overall in terms of money spent on hotel rooms and in local restaurants. “Miami Beach is helping us with our Tennis Center,” he said. “This is what we are doing to help back.”
Van Daalen came to the North Shore Tennis Center in August 2015 after a career working with some of the world’s best tennis players. He was the National Coach of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) for eleven years from 1997 to 2008 and later Director of Player Development for the Finnish Federation from 2013 to 2014.
“I was looking for a new challenge,” he said, “and my former boss, Rodney Harmon made me aware that they wanted to build a program here at North Shore. I’ve always liked building programs and building facilities. I like doing things like what we’re doing here with the building and making something grand and unique.”
When he first arrived, there was no programming. “I basically started with 3-4 players and now we have an Academy and we take players to tournaments.” Programming now includes a wide variety of skill levels, from after school programs, beginner, intermediate, and the Academy, which includes “15-16 serious juniors that want to become either regional players or national players or international players. You can already see the passion they have for going in that direction.”
His role he said is to get his players into college. “I want it to be a unique program with a travel component” and if the players want to play at the highest levels, he’ll help them get there. But, he said, “My primary goal is to get as many of these kids into college.”
Students are now coming from all over. “It’s not just Miami Beach,” van Daalen said, “People come from outside as well – Bal Harbour, Surfside, Aventura, even Doral.” But it isn’t just about the serious players for van Daalen. The experience is shared with children who might not be able to afford tennis lessons. “We do free programming for the rec center next door, so twice a week we get recreational players come over here,” he said.
While the immediate horizon includes the ITF tournament and construction, van Daalen is thinking ahead to what’s next. “I would like to see a roof over six courts. The reason being that Miami still has a lot of rain.” A dome over the top with open sides would allow players to keep on playing when it rains and provide shade from the sun. “It would let people play during the day when it’s dead. We lose about a third of our time because of the rain. And it would give people who don’t want to play in the direct sun the opportunity to do so.”
“There’s nothing like it in South Florida,” he said. “Martina Navratilova trains here. She thought it was a great idea. It’s on our wish list for the future.”
North Shore Tennis Center has 12 courts – 2 hard courts and 10 clay. Van Daalen said the clay courts are “some of the best in South Florida”. With an underground watering system, players can keep on playing since the courts don’t have to be shut down for watering. “Twice a day they get swept and so we always have really excellent courts,” he said.
Well beyond improved facilities, van Daalen said, “My vision for this Tennis Center is that it’s a friendly place to go for families and where people can enjoy free play and competition if they want to.”
For more information on the Tennis Center, click here.
For more information on the ITF Tennis Championship, click here for team chamionship info and here for individual championship info.