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Article: About the tourney, facility and player perks

From the Herald Tribune


SARASOTA

On Monday, Anna Kournikova sat down at one of The Meadows' practice courts, looked around and exclaimed, "I love this place.''

On Friday, near the stadium court, Austria's Barbara Schett let her eyes similarly wander. "This,'' she said, "is gorgeous.''

Sitting a few feet from the action on stadium court, spectators Julius and Betty Loeser seemed in tennis heaven.

"It's beautiful,'' said Julius. Added Betty, "You get a different flavor when you're sitting this close. You can see their personalities.''

The singles and doubles champions of the Sarasota Clay Court Classic won't be decided until Sunday. But the overall winner already has been crowned.

The Meadows itself.

If you can't forget your troubles once inside the place, once you've absorbed the postcard-quality backdrop of trees, pristine surroundings, relaxed atmosphere -- not to mention the great tennis -- then you've got some serious issues.

In only its second year, the Classic has established itself as one of the favorite stops on the WTA tour. Indeed, with its lush environs, it reminds many players of the event on Amelia Island.

"What we're trying to do is create a family atmosphere, which The Meadows is,'' said general manager Dave Jewitt. "It's a pretty place. Everybody says it's probably the best tennis facility in the area.''

Coaches have gone one better. A couple of them approached Jewitt and told him the facility's clay courts, with the exception of Roland Garros, were the finest they've experienced.

"I think it's an awesome venue,'' said tour supervisor Angie Woolcock. "The courts, for one. Unbelievable standard. It's still got the laid-back, relaxed atmosphere that you expect in Florida, but it's just a really well-done event.''

It goes beyond well-manicured courts. Players are pampered the time they're here. They've gotten specially prepared food. Some have requested bath salts. Those who play golf have had access to The Meadows' courses.

"The food and the way they set up the courts every day and the way they treat the players is wonderful,'' said singles player Ansley Cargill.

"Whatever we can do for them,'' said Jewitt, "we're going to do for them.''

Some of the changes -- the added tents, more vendors, the construction of the 2,200-seat stadium court -- are obvious. Others, such as a bigger press room, more phone lines and computers, have been embraced as well.

Jewitt learned from the inaugural tournament last year, when The Meadows didn't get involved until relatively late.

"So last year you could say was a great learning experience for us,'' he said.

Naturally, the tournament hasn't completely been problem-free. Some of The Meadows' members have complained to Jewitt about the inconvenience, even if they've had the use of the courts and fitness center at the Longwood Athletic Club.

Jewitt's happy for another reason as well. The added staff on trash pick-up detail.

"It's been great,'' he said. "We've been getting home at midnight rather than at 2 o'clock.''
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