Giant logos of the four Grand Slam tournaments adorn the walls of Tennis U in Steinbach, Manitoba: it’s a fitting look for a facility where casual players can feel like they’re training and competing like pros.
Full court radar is displayed at both ends of the court to measure service and groundstroke speeds. Players can work on their games with an Ace Attack serving machine and three other balls machines: a Lobster Phenom II, a Silent Partner and a Tennis Tutor. Video equipment, including an HD camera, is at the back of the court to record matches.
“It is a state of the art tennis facility where you can play in a private, non-threatening, and non-humiliating environment,” said Dave Muzyka, a Kildonan Tennis Club member who takes lessons at Tennis U.
Owner/head pro Barry Bruce invested about $1 million of his own money to build Tennis U. Bruce owns the McDonald’s in Steinbach (which has the largest volume of any McDonald’s in Manitoba) and the two McDonald’s restaurants in Selkirk. His work office is at Tennis U.
At 11,000 square feet with a 40-foot ceiling on the tennis court, Tennis U took around a year to construct. It’s been open for about two and a half years.
“I was looking at property on the outskirts of town (for Tennis U),” said Bruce. “Then the City of Steinbach was selling lots on this street (Acres Drive) for $40,000 a piece but I needed two lots. So for $80,000 I got not a bad piece of property but it was only big enough to put up one court.”
Within the last year Bruce has made the court available for the public to use. A membership at Tennis U sells for $250. It costs $35 an hour to rent the court for singles or 10 pre-paid hours can be purchased for $300. The doubles rate is $50 an hour. Tennis U has about 20 members.
Bruce coaches at the facility with Saskatchewan native Curtis Kulpa. Junior programs using progressive tennis equipment are offered Monday and Wednesday nights, and two groups of adult classes are held Saturday mornings. Facilitated by Tennis Manitoba instructors and Bruce, Tennis U put on a clinic for school kids on March 22.
A private lesson at Tennis U is $50 an hour. A player doesn’t need to be a member to take lessons.
“A few people come from the city (Winnipeg) for lessons,” Bruce said. “I got a family that comes from Anola, and there are a lot of regulars for lessons that come in once a week or twice a week.”
Bruce makes good use of his ball machines when teaching lessons. His serving machine, he said, is a great tool for working on return games. The machine simulates serve speeds up to 130 mph. It can also replicate high-bouncing kick serves.
“If you were (Andy) Murray you might not even get that back,” Bruce said of the high bounce the serving machine can generate.
Bruce also uses his iPad Air for his coaching.
“When I’m doing my private lessons or group lessons I’ll pull out the iPad, video them for a bit, and then right on the court we’ll play it back and it’s got the super slow motion,” he said. “It’s a really good teaching tool.”
Bruce has been coaching tennis for over 25 years. He coached with Susan Stone at Winnipeg Winter Club when the tennis courts were housed in an inflated bubble. He also taught tennis programs for the City of Winnipeg and worked at the Sargent Park tennis courts.
From around 1994-97 Bruce was the national wheelchair coach for Tennis Canada, and he coached the Canadian wheelchair players at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta.
“I went all over the world with those guys at one point,” said Bruce. “I went to Australia one year. I went to Germany, England and Holland. I got to meet a lot of top coaches there too.”
Some of the star players Bruce has met at various tournaments are Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori and Richard Gasquet. Tennis U is filled with tennis pictures and memorabilia. Bruce has autographed racquets from Agassi, Murray, Rafael Nadal, John Isner, Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova. One racquet – a Wilson Pro Staff 6.0 titled “Racquet of Champions” – is signed by Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg. Bruce even has an autographed Milos Raonic shoe.
Most of the memorabilia is on display in the upstairs lounge at Tennis U. The lounge has a big screen TV, couches, a pool table, a chess board and a kitchen.
At one tournament Bruce went to he met Brad Gilbert, a former world top ten player who coached Agassi and Roddick and now works as an ESPN tennis analyst. The two have become good friends.
“He has a private court at his house in San Rafael, California so every year I go down and spend about four days, about three hours a day, with him on the court,” said Bruce, who has made the trip the past four years. “He’s helped me a lot with my own game and I’ve picked up a lot of tips.”
Bruce bought his Babolat Star 5 stringing machine through Gilbert. The Babolat Star 5 is used on the ATP tour.
“It’s like the Cadillac (of stringing machines),” Bruce said.
Bruce uses the latest in tennis technology at Tennis U, including the lighting. The court is lit by T5 florescent lights.
“They’re tiered to cut down on the shadowing,” said Bruce.
In the one-court facility, players aren’t distracted by balls flying over from other courts.
“Here there are no interruptions,” Bruce said. “You got the whole court to yourself.”
Bruce said his own game has improved since Tennis U opened.
“I’ve had a racquet in my hand I bet every day for the last two and a half years,” he said.
Bruce said there are plenty of options available for players who join Tennis U looking for matches/practice: they can hit tennis balls with Bruce and Kulpa, in addition to using the Ace Attack serving machine and the facility’s three other ball machines.
“The only thing I don’t have is the line-calling equipment – the Hawk-Eye,” said Bruce. “I got everything else.”
Check out the Tennis U photo gallery.
Visit the Tennis U website.