Randy Pate

Randy Pate

Now that the Randy Pate Tennis Academy has expanded to Family Circle Tennis Center, what's next? Just what does Pate want to see in his rapidly growing academy that was headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., before moving to Mount Pleasant's LTP Tennis approximately 30 months ago?

"We want to make this a world-class development academy," Pate said. "We wanted to have a path from beginner to college. We now have every step along the way to college tennis. If a 5-year-old wants to play college tennis, they can get aboard."

With Jeff Wilson's MWTennis Academy shifting from FCTC to Wild Dunes Resort, Pate has moved the developmental segment of the Randy Pate Academy to the Daniel Island home of the Volvo Car Open. All of this was the result of LTP owner Ben Navarro adding Family Circle Tennis Center and the VCO to his tennis empire nearly three months ago.

Expanding his academy to FCTC was the logical move for Pate once the Daniel Island facility was taken over by Navarro. LTP Tennis was bursting at the seams trying to accommodate a strong adult environment while becoming an ever-growing junior training facility and a major player in the USTA's network of ITF women's pro circuit tournaments and national junior events.

Navarro's acquisition of FCTC made Pate's goal more achievable.

Budding world-class juniors such as local residents Emma Navarro, Anna Ross, Allie Gretkowski, Lara Schneider and others will continue to train at LTP Tennis along with the herd of other junior tennis standouts whose aim is to prepare for college tennis.

"We have a waiting list at LTP," Pate said, noting that his academy has only 50 slots for juniors at LTP.

"We probably have 60 kids at FCTC. We're making sure that adults have plenty of courts at FCTC."

Numerous outstanding juniors have "moved in" to reside and train here. That might change some as Pate said, "Most of our players at the beginning came from other places, but now we are getting our own players from the Charleston area."

One of these is 13-year-old Carson Baker, who is back at the academy. His dad, former FCTC pro/Charleston Southern University women's coach Mike Baker, had recently spent time serving as a pro at Hilton Head Island while Carson trained there.

"Mike Baker is running development for us at FCTC," Pate said.

Counting himself, Pate has 16 pros running the expanded academy that uses 16 courts at LTP and 12 at FCTC.

"We are pretty excited about what we can do now. It's a lot of fun."

The academy already has a pro division that includes two of the top 500 players in the world rankings, No. 329 Ellie Halbauer and No. 419 Emina Bektas. And then there's No. 670 WTA Tour-ranked Emma Navarro, who is still almost two years from entering Duke University.

Several other touring pros are expected to land at the academy in the coming months. All that's missing is a return by Shelby Rogers as she attempts a comeback from injury on the WTA Tour.

A FULL SEASON

The local USTA tennis league appears to be in a hurry to start next spring's championship season. If the bad weather during the summer, the fall downpour of rain and even more recent cold wave and rainstorms caused scheduling problems for some league tennis players, the push to start playing the spring season in the middle of winter isn't being greeted enthusiastically.

I don't know many league players, young or old, who enjoy playing league matches in freezing or near-freezing weather. You can't blame them. It's just no fun to play in freezing weather.

The spring leagues are currently in team-forming registration mode through Dec. 28 as league officials expect play to begin in early January.

Of course, league tennis may be the last thing on most adult players' minds around the Christmas holidays.

As a longtime captain, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to get some players registered in December. They ask, "Isn't this the spring season?" Also, I hope the 3.5 men's league will consider not scheduling the start of the season on Monday, Jan. 7. That's the date of the college football national championship game.

The reality is that although the local tennis season is much longer than in some locations, it's still a bit tight to comfortably accommodate spring, mixed, combo and fall leagues.

If we could all shift to a warmer climate to play league tennis from Thanksgiving until late February, then return to Charleston for the rest of the year, we could play all four of the basic leagues in relative comfort, other than maybe some of the 6 p.m. mixed doubles matches in late June or the ladies' 6 p.m. combo matches in the heat of summer.

Nighttime matches are wonderful most of the year, so we're all lucky to be able to play league tennis comfortably almost year-around.

LOCAL NOTES

-- Local juniors Huntley Allen and Coy Simon were runners-up in boys 18 doubles in the recent National Indoor Championships in Overland Park, Kan.

-- Next spring's ITF women's pro circuit tournament at LTP Tennis has increased its purse to become a $100K ITF tournament when it's held April 29-May 5.

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his latest columns on the Grand Slams at ubitennis.net/author/james-beck.