Bear Mountain unveils new tennis bubble

The new 27,000 square-foot indoor bubble at the Bear Mountain Tennis Centre, covering four of the centre’s eight clay courts, is envisioned to house everything from Canada’s future pro stars to duffers of all abilities.

The bubble, covering half of the largest indoor-outdoor red-clay facility in Canada, opened this week and the sounds of balls thwacking off rackets filled the facility during a media tour Tuesday. The public can try smashing balls on the courts during a free open house Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

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The $1-million climate-controlled bubble, with 48-count LED lighting suspended from the soaring 40-foot ceiling, makes for an “almost cathedral-like impact when you enter the courts,” said Russ Hartley, director of tennis at Bear Mountain.

It’s not the ceiling, but the surface, that matters most in tennis.

“Clay is the most common tennis surface in the world outside the West Coast of North America,” said Hartley.

“More than 80 per cent of the top players in the world developed their game on clay.”

Just as Golf Canada has centralized its top U-19 players at its national training centre on the Bear Mountain course, and Cycling Canada has done the same on the Bear’s trails with its best young mountain bikers, there are hopes to bring Tennis Canada’s top young players to Bear Mountain as well.

That’s why the new banner-festooned Leigh Road, leading up from the Rugby Canada national training centre in Langford to Bear Mountain, has been dubbed the Olympic Corridor.

“Clay is a slower surface, which allows for longer rallies, so it is the best surface to develop young talent,” said Hartley.

“We envision this facility hosting national and international tournaments.”

The benefits are just as high on the recreational side of the sport.

“Clay is wonderfully forgiving on the body and soft on the joints, back and knees,” said Hartley.

The ball bounces slower on clay, allowing recreational players more time to address their shots, which leads to more sustained rallies.

“You have more time to think out your shots, and your strategy, and where to place the ball,” said Paula Buchholz, a recreational player at Bear Mountain, as she hit the ball in a doubles game Tuesday.

“It leads to a more intelligent game.”

Buchholz, an 80-year-old native of Cologne, Germany, has had knee and back issues. Compared to hardcourts, she said: “Clay is like a walk in the park and has been easy on my knees and back.”

So much so the active senior travels from her home on Dallas Road to play at Bear Mountain.

“I believe Victoria needs more clay courts,” she said.

They are rare, however, in these parts. Especially the world-class red clay used at Bear Mountain.

The Bear’s bubble will be deflated and put away each spring, allowing for outdoor play on all eight clay courts from May through September. A second bubble, which would allow for all eight courts to be covered during the winter months, is planned for the future.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Bear Mountain bubble will host its first national event, not in tennis, but boxing. Two rings and seating for 1,200 will be installed in the facility for the 2019 Super Channel Boxing Canada championships from April 23 to 27, which is the first national qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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