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 www.FamilyCircleCup.com.