The crowd buzzed at MacGregor Downs Country Club last week as four teams battled for a chance to compete for the Raleigh Pro League championship title.
The relaxed atmosphere and player-crowd interaction was typical of the league’s free weekly summer matches, said league director and coordinator Bill Edwards.
“We try to encourage this to be fun,” Edwards said. “Spectators can make noise and we want it to be not what tennis generally is. There’s probably no place else — unless there’s a big tennis tournament — that people can come out and see some of the best tennis players in the area and be up close to them and talk to them afterward. ... For anybody who enjoys tennis, this is the best entertainment value around.”
The league boasts four teams of eight players each competing in a team tennis doubles format. Each team, sponsored by a local company, has a home country club — MacGregor Downs, Brier Creek Country Club, North Hills Club or the Raleigh Racquet Club — and the players are drafted from a pool of top area players before each season.
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“I think everyone was a Top 25 player in juniors, because that’s what it takes to get a scholarship offer to a Division I school,” Edwards said of the league’s competitors. “Many are former college players – some very accomplished at the college level – which shows how difficult it is to make it on the pro scene.”
Many of the players are tennis pros at local clubs, Edwards said, working 35-50 hours a week training others before coming out to play in the league Friday nights. The Raleigh Pro League offers them an opportunity to compete against high caliber players.
“It’s as much fun for the players as it is for the crowd,” said Jason Abhau, owner of sponsor company White Dahlia and co-captain of the team, which plays out of North Hills Club. “Every year there’s better players.”
Team White Dahlia, the 2013 champion, lost a tie break Friday to Team Mosquito Authority (MacGregror Downs). Mosquito Authority will face Team North State Bank (Raleigh Racquet Club) at Seven Oaks Swim & Racquet Club for the Raleigh Pro League championship Friday.
North State Bank topped Team Brier Creek Ortho (Brier Creek Country Club) for a place in the finals.
The championship match begins at 7 p.m., but before the pros take the courts, spectators and fans will have an opportunity to participate in a free tennis clinic at 5:45 p.m. Interested participants can sign up on the Raleigh Pro League Facebook page.
The championship event will boast a “carnival-like atmosphere” at Seven Oaks, with food trucks and a Kona Ice vendor.
“We just want to make it a fun atmosphere,” Williams Noblitt, tennis director at Seven Oaks and a player for Team North State Bank, said. “That’s what this league is for. We want it to be fun for the crowds because it’s fun for us pros just to stay in competition.”