PHOTO: Gum trees bordering Alice Springs Tennis Club need approval from traditional owners before they can be trimmed.(ABC News: Robert Herrick)
Sacred gum tree leaves threaten future of Australian Pro Tour tennis in Alice Springs
The Australian Pro Tour may not return to Alice Springs next season unless organisers obtain permission to lop sacred gum trees whose leaves are falling on the court and posing a hazard to players.
In a case of flora disrupting play, a 2014 Tennis Australia report expressed concern about the number of leaves that fell on the court during the 2014 event.
But organisers cannot trim or cut down the trees without approval from native title holders and the council, according to the tennis club’s tournament director Matt Roberts.
“We have to go through the right channels with council and native title to make sure that we can get large branches lopped and trees brought down to a manageable size,” he said.
“It’s a constant thing during our big tournaments, but to interrupt matches half-way through it, a third of the way through it is pretty impractical.
“Imagine watching a grand slam and then having a leaf-break after every 30 minutes or so.”
He said the annual event generated “a six-figure sum” for the local economy and inspired locals and sports fans.
“The tennis-loving public of Alice Spring is huge,” he said.
But he added the leaves were putting players at risk.
“They could do an injury that could put them out of tennis for months,” he said.
“It’s not just an aesthetic issue, it’s actually a practical issue to deal with injuries and that sort of thing.”
Install net to catch falling leaves: Mayor
One option may be installing a net to catch falling leaves, Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan suggested.
“A point that was clear this year was that with the wind and the leaves we need to look at how we may put a net on those trees, just to stop it during those events,” he said.
“We need to ensure that our leaves don’t become the reason why a player at high speed can’t play on those courts.
“The players are faster and faster so you get a couple of young men ranked just outside the top 200 in the world, they move around that court very fiercely, their shoes are designed to connect with the court.
“If a eucalyptus leaf is the difference between them twisting an ankle or not, then we’ve got to look at how we manage that.”
The Alice Springs stop of the Australian Pro Tour offers the most prize money to competitors and the most ranking points from the international Association of Tennis Professionals.
The event has been considered a gateway to professional leagues.
In 2014 eight players went on to play grand slam tennis and two to the Davis Cup.
The highest ranking player who has taken part in Alice Springs has been Sam Groth, who played in all four grand slams this season and was ranked number 75 in the world.
Omar Jasika, 17, won the junior US Open in both singles and doubles this year, and has also earned international ranking points at the Alice Springs event.
Alice Springs organisers are currently trying to secure an historic sixth edition of the tournament in the town.