One of the longest played collegiate sports, tennis has been played in US universities since 1883, twenty-three years before the NCAA itself was founded. At first, it was seen almost exclusively among the elite and upper classes, with colleges such as Harvard presenting the first ever champions of the sport. It wouldn't be until the 1920s - still two decades before tennis would be played under the NCAA - that players from less established colleges such as California, Texas and Washington State, would be seen to succeed and grow the sport in a collegiate sense.[caption id="attachment_11604" align="aligncenter" width="531"] Virginia winners of the 2016 DI Men's Tennis Championship[/caption]
After the first NCAA Championship in tennis was celebrated in 1946, both UCLA and USC became easily seen as the programs at the forefront of the emerging game. Both these colleges had access to beautiful and quality courts in the state of CA, and the hot climate made it easy for players to fit in outdoor playing time year round. Alex Olmedo, former winner of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, attended USC around this time, and won both the 1956 and 1958 NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships for the college.
Since its establishment as a major collegiate sport, the facilities offered by colleges have only increased in quality, serving to inspire new players to follow their professional dreams. Ivy League colleges have continued to promote tennis as a sport, with former world number one Dick Savitt serving as the namesake for Columbia’s courts and tennis centre. However, nowadays college tennis is not limited to the elite, with Texas’ Baylor University’s program being named the best for collegiate facilities by ‘Tennis’ magazine. Baylor’s Hurd Tennis Centre has been donated to by Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who completed a tennis scholarship at the school in 1979. This amount of finance and facilities being employed in tennis has only served to encourage hoards of potential players to pick up racquets and take up scholarships.
Alongside this, the amount of tennis greats who are college graduates themselves also promotes this sport among students. John Isner, the highest ranked American male, is a former Georgia Bulldog - a school which is known a eight-time national champion in tennis. However, this is by no means a sport dominated by men. Since the 1980s, women’s tennis has been offered by the NCAA, and young players like Georgia Tech Irina Falconi - spotted at Wimbledon and the Australian Open this year - further encourage young women to take up the sport.
This is a guest blog written by Bethany Sharpe.