By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion
It’s my favorite time of year! The U.S. summer hard court season is underway, with the best players in the world starting on the hard courts in America. For the ATP, it’s Atlanta, Georgia! This is a special tournament for me because it was the first professional tournament I ever attended. I was eight years old and the Jensen family was on summer vacation to visit family who lived in Marietta.
It was so much fun in a big city with so much to do and going to the Atlanta Open was on the agenda. My dad was a high school tennis coach, so going to see the tennis was a priority. One early morning, we grabbed our racquets and went to the Atlanta Open for the junior tennis clinic. My brother, Murphy, who was just six at the time, and I were on the court with two future hall of famers — THE Stan Smith and Dennis Ralston. I remember hitting a ton of balls and noticing how tall Stan Smith was. The blurry, old photos are still some of my favorite childhood memories of trying to learn the game from the professionals.
It has been nearly 50 years since that clinic and the Atlanta Open still is thriving! Now, I am the one leading the clinics all tournament long. The tennis is world-class with so many elite talents using the tournament to prepare for a US Open run later in the summer. But what makes the Atlanta Open special are the fans. Atlanta is a MASSIVE global tennis city with tens of thousands of players, and they come out to enjoy the pros! It’s a festive and relaxing atmosphere where the pro players are mixing in with the fans. The site is Atlantic Station where tons of food and drink options are available with loads of great shopping. The players’ hotel also is in that area and seeing them cruising around Atlantic Station is a common site.
Another thing the Atlanta Open does well is bring in the WTA stars! Coco Gauff was a HUGE hit last year and returns for an exhibition match this year. She spent many of her early years growing her game in Atlanta and her father played basketball for Georgia State University. Her scheduled opponent is the fierce Leylah Fernandez.
The Atlanta Open also supports its local league play. The ALTA Mixed Doubles season concludes at the Atlanta Open tournament. The best teams play the finals onsite with the fans, families, friends and pros watching! It’s EXTREMELY competitive and gets quite rowdy!
Playing mixed doubles in an art. The teams that successfully navigate the power of the men with the creativity of the women usually win. Working together is critical. The strategy is so different from basic gender doubles where every player normally plays their side of the court. In mixed doubles, the power is important but not the main factor. The consistency and well-placed shots from the woman can neutralize the power of the man’s racquet. I absolutely loved playing mixed doubles. Martina Navratilova, who won 59 Grand Slams in her amazing career, won a ton in mixed doubles. Her last major was at 49 years old with Bob Bryan at the US Open.
I played Martina at Wimbledon and she was so tough to play. She would use my power to hit sharp angles and well-placed lobs. She gave a lesson that day and it was an honor to compete against her. Next time you are on the court in mixed doubles, remember it is a thinking game and a communication game more than anything. Find a partner who wants to have fun and likes to high five! THAT is a winning combination!