Notre Dame tennis teams frequently lost games to the South Bend weather. But once the indoor Eck Tennis Pavilion was built, right next to the outdoor Courtney Tennis Center, neither rain nor snow could stop a match.
Advantage, Notre Dame tennis.
My first spectator visit to ND tennis was in February, when the women were playing Michigan. Those TV shots of people turning their heads back and forth to follow a tennis match can be amusing. But at an indoor Notre Dame tennis match, you won’t get a neck work-out — all the indoor seating spans the end of the courts instead of the long side.
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Whether fans lean against waist-high bars on the main level or perch on the bleachers upstairs, this vantage point gives spectators a great view of three of the six courts, with only a few steps across the middle section of the building needed to see the courts on the opposite side.
The Eck Tennis Pavilion was built in 1987, though, which might explain the lack of an elevator. So forget a seat on the bleachers or grabbing a snack at the upstairs vending machines, the only available concessions, if you can’t manage stairs.
Unfortunately, on Feb. 10, the women’s tennis team could not manage Michigan. Not for the lack of encouragement, however. The sprinkling of fans offered constant motivational cheers, from call-outs to specific players: “Good job, Shannon,” “You show ‘em, Frills,” to the generic “Way to go!”
Not all the shouts were positive. Although I didn’t hear the original remark, I did hear a coach politely tell a spectator standing on the main level: “Refrain from making nasty comments. They’ll penalize Notre Dame.”
And I would penalize ND for spectator confusion. Before the games began, an announcer reeled through who was on what court. But the courts are not numbered, I wasn’t familiar with the players, and I had no idea who I was watching. Hooray … somebody!
Several weeks later and several degrees warmer, the stakes were higher as both the men’s and women’s tennis teams had earned spots in the 2011 Big East tournaments. This was good, since the teams were co-hosting the events in South Bend. You would hate not to be invited to your own party.
So on April 29 I got a chance to view preliminary rounds on the 14 courts of the outdoor Courtney center. My reaction, like the results of the ND tennis teams, was mixed.
For Courtney South, fans sit on metal bleachers facing the long side of the first court; the remaining six courts continue down in a line. This offers a great view of play on the first court, a not-so-great view of play on the other six courts. In fact, a few spectators stood by the fences, their backs to the traffic on Courtney Lane, to catch the action on the far courts.
Courtney North is the place to be. An additional set of bleachers offers unobstructed views of the seven north courts. You can take either steps or a ramp to any set of bleachers.
Once again, I wasn’t sure who was who was where. The fans were helpful here, however, calling out the names of players to cheer an ace or a successful drop shot.
During the tournament, I noticed that the Eck pavilion had a new sign on its door — no public restrooms. Guess the two Joy Johns near Courtney center were the spectators’ thrones of no choice.
Still, whether the games are indoors or out, the spectator experience is free. Walk up, grab a seat and enjoy the show. Commerce wasn’t nonexistent, however. At the tournament, you could buy Big East tennis T-shirts or, for $2, a program.
What also was free was the excitement of watching the men struggle valiantly against Louisville in the finals and the joy of seeing the women capture the Big East tournament. Tennis is the perfect sport for ND fans to send a volley cheer on high.
Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.