Lace up the tennis shoes and prep those rackets and balls for play — because the much-hyped Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center is now open to the public.
What began as drawings and plans on paper nearly four years ago is finally a reality in the form a $4.9 million athletic complex situated on 8.25 acres of land at 6585 Simons Road in Zephyrhills.
The complex enjoyed a soft opening on Sept. 21. A grand opening celebration is set for Oct. 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The center is now open every day, from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The facility’s outdoor centerpiece is 11 regulation outdoor tennis courts (nine clay surface, two hard surface), eight pickleball courts and four padel courts — two of the world’s fastest-growing racquet sports.
Attached is a nearly 8,000-square-foot indoor club housing cutting-edge health and wellness amenities that promote training and recovery.
There are rooms dedicated for cryotherapy, salt therapy, bio/neuro feedback therapy, massage and yoga. There’s also a 1,300-square-foot fitness center featuring workout equipment, including recumbent bikes, rowers and ellipticals.
The indoor clubhouse also has a full restaurant and cafe operated by Land O’ Lakes-based caterer Mark Vesh.
Though membership-based, guest users are encouraged to make court rentals and partake in other amenities. Walk-ins are welcome and any specific questions can be answered by the facility’s front desk manager.
Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, patrons are wasting no time getting their game on.
For instance, a 30-member coed pickleball group from Zephyrhills reserved courts for a mini event on the facility’s first open morning.
The complex is named in honor of Sarah Vande Berg, a former Zephyrhills High School district champion and three-time state qualifier who died in an automobile accident in South Carolina at the age of 21, in October 2015.
Her father, Todd Vande Berg, is the longtime planning director for Zephyrhills.
The tennis center venture is a public-private partnership between the City of Zephyrhills and Pascal Collard, a longtime tennis pro and instructor serving as the facility’s CEO.
The municipality owns the state-of-the-art tennis facility, but Collard is responsible for its day-to-day operations and programming.
Collard has been involved with the project since October 2017, when his tennis management firm, Tennis P.R.O. Florida LLC, was hired by the city.
Finally seeing the complex come to life is a relief for Collard, noting he invested “a lot of time and money and energy and passion” in conjunction with Zephyrhills during the last several years.
Said Collard, “It’s a lifetime goal and a lifetime dream that’s come true to be able to run a place and really do something that’s touched the community and that will touch people from all over the world.”
In running the facility, he brings a diverse tennis background to the table.
Collard previously served as tennis director at Saddlebrook in Wesley Chapel and The Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pennsylvania. His personal training includes working with several widely known tennis pros, including Younes El Aynaoui and Martin Verkerk, both of whom coincidentally ranked as high as No. 14 in the ATP Tour rankings back in 2003.
Many of the other 36 total staffers at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center similarly bring aboard respectable pedigrees.
The facility’s tennis director is Rene Moller, a former touring pro director at Saddlebrook Tennis Academy who’s been a full-time coach to John Isner, the highest-ranked American men’s tennis player, as well as Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, who’s ranked No. 31 in the world.
Another notable tennis instructor is Mika Todo, a former professional WTA international tennis player from Japan who’s been working as a tennis coach for the past 20 years, and successfully trained junior players who won the title in the All-Japan Junior U12 and U14 tournament.
Also, former NFL defensive lineman Mel Williams will serve as a fitness coach and specialist in tennis footwork and plyometrics. He played for the New Orleans Saints, the Washington Redskins, the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins in the early 2000s.
A host for pro tournaments
The facility is beginning to deliver on its promise as a tourism driver for East Pasco, by drawing big-ticket national and international events.
Collard said the complex will host a sanctioned professional women’s tournament in late January that’ll offer a $25,000 grand prize for the winner and points in world rankings. The event is expected to draw 32 players representing a number of different countries and nationalities.
A corresponding men’s tennis tournament organized by retired professional Johan Kriek and sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation also is in the works, Collard said. Kriek won 14 professional singles and eight doubles titles, ranking as high as seventh in the world in the 1980s. “It’s going to be very impressive and exciting,” Collard said of the forthcoming events.
A community hangout
At a hard-hat tour back in June, Collard explained his visioning for the complex is to become a community hangout of sorts, where users do more than simply play tennis with friends then leave and go about their day.
“It started with tennis, but it now became a destination,” said Collard. “Basically, the concept here is, ‘I’m not doing one hour of sport and I go home. I’m coming here to play tennis, then maybe I do a cryotherapy session and then maybe I go eat here because there’s a full restaurant.’ You can bring your entire family…so it’s really unique.”
In coming years, the facility could expand even further. The northeast corner of the 8-plus-acre property is reserved for a 30,000-square-foot indoor multipurpose sports complex, enough room to accommodate another four full-size tennis courts. However, the addition had a setback when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $1 million appropriation for the project from the state’s budget.
In opening amid ongoing coronavirus concerns, the facility is adhering to prescribed health and safety precautions, Collard explained.
Masks are required inside the clubhouse, but not while playing outdoor racquet sports.
Staffers also have installed about 30 umbrella tables in a roomy outdoor space for patrons to eat, drink, relax and watch play, in a socially distanced manner.
There are also plans to install a temperature screening gate before entering the building in the coming week, in partnership with AdventHealth.
Collard summed up the varied safety measures: “We have sanitizer everywhere. We have masks for everybody.”
As for next month’s grand opening, Collard promises a “big, big wow factor.”
Collard added: “We have a lot of surprises. It’s going to be pretty, pretty amazing what’s going to happen right there.”
Between now and then, visitors also may notice spruced-up landscaping on the property.
Collard noted that landscaping is always put in last.
For more information, call (813) 361-6660, email , or visit SVBtenniscenter.com.
Published September 23, 2020