This past weekend, Taos Tennis at Quail Ridge Taos hosted the United States Tennis Association Taos Open Tennis Tournament – which was not only the first tennis tournament to be played in Northern New Mexico since the pandemic hit in March of 2020, but also one of the first sports tournaments of any kind to be held in the state in more than a year-and-a-half.
From the throng of cars that surrounded the tournament venue to the energy of the crowd when players from around the country competed from July 9-11, there was a clear atmosphere of excitement surrounding the event.
More than 200 people, including players, friends and family, were on site to enjoy the doubles tournament, which included women’s, men’s and mixed doubles events on a variety of levels. Players from eight states were represented, as far away as Florida and Tennessee. They ranged in age from 18 to 79. One young competitor teamed up to play with his grandfather.
The draw consisted of 142 players. In accordance with the United States Tennis Association’s emphasis on players having more court time, each of the 19 events included a consolation round. Any doubles team that lost their first-round match was guaranteed to play at least one additional match – so no one would go home early.
There was also a round-robin-style event ensuring teams that wanted to play had the opportunity to do so. The matches were played using a 10-point tie-break if the players went to a third set, which always makes for an adrenaline-fueled finish.
For three days, starting at 7:30 in the morning, the courts were packed with teams participating in the sport that had been grounded by the pandemic. According to Kurt Edelbrock, Taos Tennis and tournament director, “It was nice to have the competition – but that was secondary to the camaraderie and friendships. This was the first time that players have seen each other since before COVID and people were excited to be here.”
Many of the competitors traveled from far away – by train, plane and automobile – and many stayed much longer than the three-day tournament. More than five groups came with extended family members in tow. The largest group plans to return to Taos each year to combine the tournament with a family reunion.
“We had groups of players with their families who came a week early to acclimate to the altitude and some stayed longer to explore the area. Some of the men stayed to fish while their wives went shopping,” said Edelbrock. “Because of the pandemic a lot of owners are staying in their condos at Quail Ridge so there weren’t as many rooms available. But that wasn’t a deterrent. We have players and families staying all over town. They’ve rented hotels, Airbnbs, and a number of them stayed at the ski valley.”
With Taos Mountain as a backdrop, husbands sat in the shade with the kids while their wives competed – and the women did the same when their partners and spouses were on the court. The Sunday matches coincided with the Wimbledon finals in England, so many teams wore all white to match the pros competing across the pond.
Local players, too, were well-represented. Five local teams made it to their final rounds, with one women’s senior team bringing home the hardware in the consolation round. That “hardware,” also known as the tournament trophy, was made close to home. The 78 trophies awarded to the winners and finalists of each event were specifically designed for this year’s tournament by Meyers Steel Design in Española.
Players and fans enjoyed the added benefit of breakfast and lunch from Aly’s Taos Eats. Aly Hyder, owner and chef, uses the space formerly occupied by Common Fire to prepare food and meals for her popular food trucks. In addition to poolside breakfasts and lunches, Aly’s is open for dinner every Monday and Tuesday.
Guests who arrived early took advantage of the food on offer. The players and guests also made good use of Aly’s menu for breakfast and lunches during the day. It is rare to be able to participate in a quality tennis tournament and have amenities like locally-sourced food and a pool for the kids to enjoy on-site. The family-friendly event also included a player’s party attended by 200 guests, catered by Aly’s.
Edelbrock also made sure the courts and grounds were prepared for the influx of players. Weeks before the first can of balls was opened, a crew was brought in and stayed on-site for weeks resurfacing some of the courts, and repairing or replacing the net posts. Local grounds crews prepped the flower beds and shrubs and the pro shop was stocked with supplies.
How busy was the weekend for some local vendors? On a typical weekend, the local tennis racket stringer restrings two rackets. During the tournament, he said he restrung 16 rackets in two days.
“Some of our vendors experienced a 500 percent increase in business during the tournament. I will consider offering sponsorships next year to local businesses that want to be part of this opportunity. The tournament has gained in popularity to the point that we might have to cap the numbers of entries,” noted Edelbrock.
Treated to highly competitive battles between some of the most talented players in the region, some matches saw people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, captivated by the quality of play.
With the USTA’s system of ranking based on skill and consistency, whether it was a men’s doubles match full of kick serves and sharp volleys or a senior’s match played at a slower pace – the matches were all competitive at their own level and fun to watch.
Win or lose the message from every participant was clear, “We will be back next year.”