As the 2018 season nears, we’re getting down to details
With the July 15 WTT season opener now just days away, it’s time to polish every element of the Aviators experience, from first impression to final point. In a literal top-to-bottom makeover, the always beautiful Omni La Costa Resort & Spa will transform and become the Home of the San Diego Aviators over the course of only about a week — and roughly 100 man hours. As 1,400 seats are installed to prepare for the intimate crowd of fans who’ll come to cheer us on, our vibrant, multi-colored court will receive a fresh coat from DecoTurf, the official court surface of the WTT. Exciting elements will be added to create an eye-popping vibe throughout, from vivid visuals to an Insta-worthy wall that just begs to be a backdrop for a selfie. And every aspect of the match, from livestreaming to the DJ and announcer to sound, lighting, and more, will be tested and retested, ensuring that the expectations of every visitor who comes to catch a match are not only met, but exceeded.
Angela Verdenacci, owner of the Event Factory, has partnered with the Aviators to curate and prep our venue since the team was created in 2014. In that inaugural season, played at Valley View Casino, Verdenacci remembers being tasked with accommodating a stop on Cher’s concert tour in the middle of the WTT season. “We had to take everything down in the whole venue — courts, bleachers, signage, everything — so Cher could come,” she says. “Less than 24 hours later, we were rebuilding and ready for our next match.” A seasoned veteran in managing tennis tournaments, having previously prepared and managed the venues for the WTA from 2010 to 2014 when San Diego was a stop on the tour (the tournament was held primarily at Omni La Costa), Verdenacci was up to the task. Needless to say, she has an affinity for this property the Aviators now call home. “I love the resort. I think it’s the most beautiful tennis venue in San Diego by far,” she says.
Beginning July 9, “the venue starts to turn red,” says Verdenacci, whose crew will install screens along the tennis courts that line the walk from the entrance to the court in the team’s signature color. Vibrant player boards of the 2018 Aviators team will adorn the screens, and playful decals on the sidewalk will lead the fans to their seats. She’ll also create the “activation area” adjacent to the court, where guests will find the Aviators shop, Kids’ Zone, food vendors, and bars, plus a giant LED screen so no one misses a point even while grabbing a drink. “It’s got a great view of the court, and I believe that our activation area is one of the highlights of the venue,” says Verdenacci. Food vendors this year include gourmet grilled cheese from Bread and Cheese, street tacos from San Diego Taco Company, Hawaiian bbq from Kama’aina Catering, and ice cream sandwiches from Baked Bear.
One of the most exciting new elements to this season will be on the court with the players: the addition of Hawk-Eye. In use at more than 80 tournaments worldwide, the ball-tracking technology will add a level of accuracy on line calls for the players, removing the risk of human error on those too-close-to-call plays that are inevitable at this high level of professional play. The addition of Hawk-Eye in WTT play is yet another way the league incorporates technology and innovations to enhance the match experience for players and tennis fans.
The players themselves need to be ready, and stay ready, too. Though the WTT season is only about to begin, players have been playing nearly nonstop since the ATP and WTA tours kicked off at the beginning of the year. Our team doctor, Ken Anderson, DO, and trainer, Thomas Knightly, ensure the players have top care and attention going into and throughout every match. Like Verdenacci, Anderson has been the team’s doctor from day one, and, as he is the tournament doctor for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the Oracle Challenger Series, and the Hawaii Open, and is also the team physician for the University of San Diego, the San Diego Gulls, and the medical director for Sea World San Diego, we know we have the very best.
Anderson assesses players before each match, with his primary focus being preventing and keeping injuries to a minimum and helping players stay healthy. “It is a short season, but it’s very intense in that they’re either playing or traveling almost every day,” he says. “Strains and overuse injuries are very common.” Stretching and five-to-ten-minute spinal manipulation gets players prepped prior to hitting the court or even during a match.
The players need finely-tuned weapons, too. Brian Blumenfield, a 13-year tennis professional at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, is the team’s official stringer. Available on-demand, Blumenfield strings up to four racquets per player per match, taking into account opponents and weather conditions, so they’re ready to dominate. “They’re always keeping me busy,” says Blumenfield, who’ll meet with players the day of their match or after their warm-up to be sure their racquets are strung exactly to players’ specifications.
With a team like this catering to the actual team, all that’s left for the Aviators to do now is get out there and play to win!