New tennis facility gives Minnesota the advantage

by Anthony Maggio

Minnesota men’s tennis coach David Geatz has waited for 15 years for it. Women’s tennis coach Tyler Thomson didn’t even know it was coming when he first interviewed for his position. But it’s finally ready.

The University’s Baseline Tennis Center celebrates its grand opening Monday, spawning a new era in Gophers tennis history.

“I feel like with the addition of this facility, we have everything we need to be successful,” Thomson said. “Before this was built, I don’t think that could be said.”

The grand opening ceremony will feature a VIP reception, a program – which will include interim University President Robert Bruininks, athletics director Joel Maturi along with Geatz and Thomson – mixed doubles exhibition matches, facility tours and open play.

This is the first time that the men’s and women’s tennis squads have boasted an on-campus, indoor/outdoor facility.

The building features many amenities which put it near the head of the class in comparison with other Big Ten schools.

The Baseline Center features 10 indoor courts, more than any other Big Ten school. The surface is called Plexi-cushion, which Geatz said is the best available. Underneath are 11 layers of rubber, making the court surface less stressful on joints.

The facility also has men’s and women’s locker rooms, a club room, a players lounge with a projection television, a hall of fame room and a 4,000-square-foot weight room shared with Ridder Arena next door.

“That was the biggest single advantage of us tying our building into women’s hockey,” Geatz said. “Because we would never have a weight room like this.”

There is currently over $100,000 worth of equipment on order for the weight room.

Geatz and Thomson both said Michigan has the only facility comparable to the Baseline Center.

The only building that makes the Baseline Center look sub par is the one attached to it – Ridder Arena.

It’s obvious when crossing over from one building to the next that Ridder Arena was the focus of the $20 million project, with the Baseline Center drawing the shorter end of the stick.

Nevertheless, both coaches said when it is completely finished, the Baseline Center will be one of the best college tennis facilities in the country.

But there’s still much work to be done.

Tennis director John Pratt, who runs the day-to-day operations in the Baseline Center, hopes to have the finishing touches completed by Jan. 1.

Pratt said the first priority is to paint the interior walls. They will first be painted white, and then an artist will paint Minnesota tennis-related logos and pictures throughout the building, including the locker rooms, club room and players lounge.

The hall of fame room, which can be seen through the picture windows on Fourth Street, will feature Minnesota’s trophies, along with paintings of past Gophers tennis greats.

“I think that’s realistic,” Pratt said. “If we work hard and everyone makes a push we can have this place ready.

“First impressions are really important in a place like this.”

Minnesota hosts the Big Ten Men’s Singles Championships on Nov. 16-18.

Another priority is upgrading the lighting. Currently there are under 85 foot candles indoors, which isn’t even enough light to take action photographs. The coaches expect the lighting to be improved to approximately 100 foot candles.

The building is also wired for video cameras on every court, allowing the coaches to tape each match as they occur simultaneously. But no cameras are presently installed.

Other little things, such as cleaning the courts, installing the electronic folding bleachers and ordering the rest of the equipment also still need to be done, but Pratt said the facility is already functioning without these final touches.

Regardless, the facility is finally on campus.

Both Gophers teams used to practice at the 98th Street Racquet Club in Bloomington, Minn., which meant an hour commute to practice every day. This also prohibited both teams from practicing the 20 hours per week allotted by the NCAA, because the club only offered the teams two hours a day.

Geatz had even thought about taking other coaching jobs in the past because he was tired of driving the van to Bloomington every day.

“Minnesota is a great school, but it was really at a huge competitive disadvantage when we didn’t have a place to play on campus,” Geatz said. “So I talked to a couple schools, and the reason I didn’t leave was because the community support was so strong.

“Minnesota has it made now,” he said.

The courts, when not in use by either team or the physical education department, will soon be made available for public use. The courts will cost $12 per hour during peak times and will likely be available to play on in November.

But for now, the facility is being broken in by the elated Gophers tennis teams.

“It makes the kids feel more special, that they’re not second class having to step in a van and drive on the interstate,” Thomson said. “It’s their own place, and that sense of ownership correlates to pride.”

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]