Boys tennis national championships leaving Kalamazoo for 2020 amid pandemic

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

"Nationals at the Zoo" is going into hibernation, for at least one year.

The United States Tennis Association announced Wednesday that the boys 16 and 18 national championships will be moved out of Kalamazoo for 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials at host school Kalamazoo College told the USTA this week that they weren't confident they could meet the required safety protocols required to host tournaments that draw more than 400 competitors to the region.

Zachary Svajda won last year's boys national championship, earning a U.S. Open invitation.

Tournament officials tried to make it work by limiting the fields to 128 participants each, but the numbers didn't add up, said Mark Riley, tournament director. An aging volunteer crew was a consideration, as well.

"Nothing since this pandemic started, there's been no sporting event that would be this length or the number of people," said Riley, also head men's coach at Kalamazoo College. "The NBA hasn't done anything yet, MLB, hockey hasn't. I have no template. I'm trying to keep people safe without a complete template.

"Those are some of the challenges."

The boys 18 tournament — the winner of which earns an invitation into the following U.S. Open — is moving to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida, while the boys 16 tournament is switching to the Mobile Tennis Center in Alabama

The tournaments will be held on the originally scheduled dates, from Aug. 7-16.

The 18- and 16-year-old national championships have been held in Kalamazoo every year since 1943, and featured such future stars as Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Michael Chang, with Chang a past champion.

In Kalamazoo, the majority of the tournaments' matches are held at Kalamazoo College, with some at nearby Western Michigan and others in Portage.

West Michigan officials estimate the annual economic impact of the tournaments, which also draws hundreds of umpires, friends, family and volunteers, at more than $1 million.

"We look forward to doing it again next year," Riley said./

Twitter: @tonypaul1984