Palmetto State Racket

Month: March, 2014

Charleston gets ready for Family Circle Cup

by Jonathon Braden


For 348 days a year, the Family Circle Tennis Center is a public tennis facility for recreational players and USTA league teams.

The other 17 days a year, the center is the host site to the Family Circle Cup, a premier event of the Women’s Tennis Association.

Converting the $15 million dollar tennis center into the host site does not require an overhaul of any kind, but it does justify a subtle makeover.

Crews add suites and bleachers. Staffers clear out rooms and apply new coats of paint. All the while, staff members, eyes circled from 12-hour days, forget about vacation.

“We know there’s going to be 30 straight days,” said Rob Eppelsheimer, the center’s director of facilities and tennis development. “That’s just how it is.”

Eppelsheimer is used to the rush: This is his 14th year running the Family Circle Tennis Center. It’s a 24-court facility, including its four 36-foot courts, with 450 members.

He knows well the physical touch-ups the staff applies to Stadium Court, where the tournament’s biggest matches will take place, including next Sunday’s championship. He’s also versed in Saturday work days and work nights, and the delayed gratification staff experiences when spending weeks and months on a nine-day tournament that’s over before they remember it started.

The physical makeover starts about a month before the tournament, Eppelsheimer said.
Thousand-pound cranes place the three sky suites stories about the Stadium Court concourse. Thousands of bleacher seats are added at five different play courts. Crews also lug in a slew of tents for all over the center.

Inside the 2,500 square-foot pro shop, staff members remove the racquets and shirts and turn it into the player lounge. A second-level conference room gets more exciting as well; it morphs into the player training room, equipped with massages tables, treadmills and ellipticals.
The training room also has another essential: Computers so players can tweet to their fans or comment on Facebook.

Other physical construction happens on “working Saturdays.” Staff members paint dozens of caution signs and hundreds of handicapped signs onto the floor of Stadium Court. They do similar work on “work nights,” weekday evenings staff members are required to work.

Others work overtime as well. Ball boys and ball girls have been practicing every Saturday since January. The more than 350 adult volunteers also have been memorizing their roles.

For some, the nine-day Family Circle Cup is a 12-month project. The tournament’s sponsorship and food and beverage workers seek new clients and fine-tune their offerings year-round, Eppelsheimer said.

Tournament Manager Eleanor Adams also works all year to remind players the Family Circle Cup would love to have them in Charleston if it’s their first or, in the case of Serena Williams, eighth time at the tournament.

This year, Williams also will be joined by numerous other veterans, including five former champions. She also will be playing for some local history: Williams will try to join Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as four-time champions of the Family Circle Cup.

Hometown favorite Shelby Rogers also will be in the field. Rogers, who is from Charleston and was once one of those ball girls at those chilly Saturday morning practices, received one of the tournament’s five wild cards.

For Rogers, the week will be another homecoming. For Eppelsheimer and other staff members, the Family Circle Tennis Center will become their home.

The Wednesday after the Sunday championship, they will take a four-day weekend to remind their friends and family they do still like them, and yes, they would like to hang out in the near future.

In the coming weeks, they even will take vacation time.

Find more information on this year’s Family Circle Cup at


Ten-Minute Tennis Tip

by Lauren Stewart

Tennis balls and court

This blog post is written by Lauren Stewart, director of tennis at The Woodlands Country Club in Columbia, S.C.

Today’s Lesson: Keeping The Ball Deep

In both singles and doubles, no matter your age or level, one effective strategy to utilize during match play is to keep the ball deep – beyond the service line. By keeping your opponent pinned to the baseline, you are preventing him or her from dictating the point. Your opponent will have a challenging time not only hitting winners but also moving the ball around. During the point, while keeping the ball deep, you can expect a weaker, shorter return or an unforced error. If you do get a weaker, shorter return, you will have the opportunity to “pull the trigger” and dictate the point, but you must have patience and wait for the short ball. The great thing about keeping the ball deep is that you don’t have to be a hard hitter for this strategy to be effective; depth and patience are more important than power and strength. Here are a few tips on how to be successful keeping the ball deep:


You cannot be tight or nervous while implementing this strategy; your muscles and mind have to be loose and relaxed. If you feel like you are getting tight, sing your favorite song in your head in between points. From Beyonce to AC/DC, choose your favorite artist, and get jiggy with it before starting the next point.


Treat the ball like it’s Velcro and allow your racket to hit entirely through your shot. Don’t try to “pop” the ball off your racket too soon. You want a smooth and long follow through. Another way to think of this is to imagine you are hitting five balls in a row instead of just one.


Raising your net clearance will ensure the depth of the ball. Visualize a three to four-foot window above the net and try to break through the window.


Shift your weight forward on your front foot while hitting your forehand or backhand. By leaning into your shot, you will naturally add more momentum to the ball.

Live ball practice:

For this drill, you will need a hitting partner around your level.

Start the point off of a feed and rally cross-court with your partner. Every time you hit a shot behind the service line, you get one point. When you hit inside the service box or on the service line, the point stops and you lose one point. All shots in the net, wide, or long are also minus one. This adds the match-play pressure to this drill. Continue this drill until you or your partner reaches 15 points.  Once someone reaches 15, move to hit down the line.

In your next match, try your best to keep the ball deep, let us know what happens, and remember to always keep it between the lines.

Lauren Stewart is the director of tennis at The Woodlands Country Club in Columbia, S.C. She also teaches tennis at the University of South Carolina, serves as a presidential appointee on the USTA South Carolina Board of Directors, and is the vice chairperson of the USTA SC Tennis Coaches Committee. Stewart, a Columbia native, played varsity tennis at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School for six years. She also is an alumnus from the College of Charleston, where she also played tennis on a full athletic scholarship.

Bob Keivit, USTA South Carolina Official of the Year

by Jonathon Braden

Bob Keivit joins Jonathon Braden on the Palmetto State Racket this week. Keivit, the 2013 USTA Southern and USTA South Carolina Official of the Year, talks about officiating with his ears, how he knows if a parent is too involved and the state of junior tennis in South Carolina.

This Is True: The One Reason Why USC’s Coach Could Beat Rafael Nadal

by Jonathon Braden

GoffiDuring his playing days, Josh Goffi never made it higher than No. 488 in the ATP singles rankings.

Years later, though, Goffi, now the USC men’s tennis coach, can feel a little prouder about his playing days, thanks to a determined Swede and an upset win 10 years ago.

In May 2004, at a Challenger event in Turin, Italy, Goffi took out Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (5). (Yes, this Stanislas Wawrinka.) Read the rest of this entry »

In Clemson vs. USC Men’s Tennis, Characters Change Sides But Rivalry Remains

by Jonathon Braden


It was March 2011, and Josh Goffi was preparing for another men’s tennis match between South Carolina and Clemson.

But for his fifth rendition, Goffi, a four-time letter winner at Clemson, would experience his first from the other side. Months earlier, he had been named the USC head coach.

Changing allegiances or experiencing tangled emotions is not unusual in this rivalry, which takes place again Wednesday afternoon; all four tennis coaches at Clemson and USC have ties to both programs. Read the rest of this entry »