2019 MIDDLE STATES HALL OF FAME
Virgil Christian: Building Blocks of Tennis
Virgil Christian: Building Blocks of Tennis
Virgil Christian has assisted with the development of more than 400 tennis facilities and park and recreation programs in the Middle States Section. But before his career in the business side of tennis, he was just a kid who loved the game.
“You remember those feelings from when you first start playing,” he said. “The sound of the ball. The feeling you get when you win. The things you learn when you lose.”
These days, Christian still has the chance to experience the emotions of tennis, as he impacts players from the grassroots all the way to the professional ranks.
He has made his mark especially through the designing and improving of tennis venues around the country — many of which stand strong in Middle States. Christian is currently the Senior Director of Facility Development at the United States Tennis Association, although his job title can’t come close to explaining the mark he leaves on the game.ADVERTISEMENT
Through the years, Christian has been heavily involved with large-scale projects like the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida, and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. His work expands to community initiatives, including Blended Lines and Park and Rec programs.
His roots always tie back to Middle States.
Christian grew up in Pittsburgh and Delaware and said he wasn’t considered one of the top juniors during that time. He did improve quickly, though, and at one point, he earned the Middle States “Most Improved” award in his age group. Eventually, the tough lefty had evolved into a high-level high school and tournament player, catching the attention of a number of Big 10 coaches.
Christian went on to attend Penn State, where he captained the tennis team, expanding his appreciation for the college game. He loved Penn State because it provided him incredible resources and experience while keeping him close to home.
He evolved into a well-known player in the section, earning the No. 1 spot in the Middle States men’s rankings before playing on the satellite tour for six months.
“That gave me a lot of confidence, for sure,” he said. “That was a really foundational year.”
His experience that year eventually led to a coaching job at the University of Pennsylvania. Then later, during graduate school in Philadelphia, he worked at Delcastle Tennis Center. That’s where he learned to run a tennis venue and, even more so, witnessed the importance of tennis in the local community. He further expanded his work ethic during that time, as he’d use his one-hour commute, each way, to study and think about his school work.
“Looking back, this is home for me,” he said of Delcastle.
Christian’s career evolved quickly from there. In his first job in the design industry, he worked on a team that built the Peachtree City Tennis Center in Georgia.
“That’s what really connected me to the USTA, was meeting Kurt Kamperman,” who worked on the design for that center,” he said.
That led to his eventual recruitment to join the USTA team in White Plains, N.Y.
Now a leading industry expert on the design side, Christian sees tennis venues differently than a player competing on site. Christian sees the 360-degree view and will immediately notice things like walkways and heating and cooling systems. While most focus on forehands and backhands, Christian sees structure and longevity.
Through his entire career, Christian has maintained his love for community tennis and often reiterates the importance it has on the game. He often thinks back to his childhood and remembers how the game influenced his work ethic and his approach to life in general. He sees the game as something that brings people together for decades, rather than just a few years at a time.
“A lot of sports, there’s a play gap from 12 to 16 or 10 to 16,” he said. “Tennis is different. We’re 8 to 88. And the other thing with tennis, is we can play big-time USTA matches on the same court that an 8-year-old can learn to play with a red ball.”
Today, Christian sees college tennis and community tennis evolving into one fast-expanding market with untapped potential. That’s something he and his team focused on while providing a vision for the USTA National Campus in Orlando. The National Campus has 100 courts and has become a mecca for college tennis in the United States.
Because of this vision and some formatting changes, collegiate tennis has experienced a boom in recent years, as television and overall media coverage of college events at the National Campus has taken off.
“I designed Lake Nona Campus with a focus on being a collegiate venue, and as a pillar of the community,” he said. “With that in mind, we would have ‘Bowl Games’ — which have evolved into College MatchDay — there. We could have schools play each other in a prime time situation with fans. So far it’s been a pretty good success.”
Almost always behind the scenes, Christian’s impact sometimes goes unrecognized in the public eye, and he shies away from taking credit. But there is no question about his impact on all levels of the game. Each day he’s helping to connect more people to tennis. He cherishes the moments when he sees his work in use, and witnesses players experiencing the game.
“It’s touching,” he said. “To see someone out there playing tennis for the first time...I think about when I played tennis for the first time on the wall, and I remember that. It’s emotional.”
“This game is a great game,” he said. “The sound of the ball hitting the strings — that’s pretty unique and special.”