Tennis

Starting with the ACC tournament Wednesday, Syracuse will be stuck playing outdoors

Courtesy of SU Athletics

Gabriella Knutson and Syracuse will have to break out the visors for outdoor play in the ACC tournament.

Drumlins Tennis Center is a cocoon.

When rain saturates the Syracuse, the hard courts stay dry. When central New York is buried in snow, the courts remain barren. When the sun shines, the roof keeps it out. No weather can change the conditions inside.

For this season, SU is done playing in Drumlins. In fact, it’s done playing indoors. The Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments are both held on outdoor hard courts. For SU, this means adjusting to the elements.

“The biggest difference is just having the sun and the wind,” freshman Miranda Ramirez said. “They’re two really big variables in tennis.”

On Wednesday, No. 11 seed Syracuse (8-13, 5-9 ACC) takes on No. 14 seed Louisville (13-10, 2-9) in Rome, Georgia, in the ACC tournament. The tournament takes place at the Rome Tennis Center, the “nation’s largest hard court facility.” It features 60 courts, all of them outdoors. Having played all its home matches indoors, Syracuse faces a distinct challenge each time it hits the road. The adjustment period is short, especially because Syracuse has practiced outside only a handful of times this year.

“March, April, it just depends,” SU head coach Younes Limam said. “If we know we’re going somewhere there’s going to be a very good chance we’ll be playing outdoors, then we try to tough it out even if it’s a little bit cold.”

The Orange is 5-4 when playing in Drumlins. Away from home, and frequently outdoors, SU is 3-9. Despite the poor record, Syracuse has no choice but to embrace the open air.

To deal with gusts, Gabriela Knutson tosses her serve a little lower so it doesn’t move too much with the wind. Ramirez focuses on moving her feet more to be able reach shots carried by a breeze. Players also need to tailor shots to the winds direction, Knutson said. In a headwind, more force must be applied. With the wind at one’s back, more top spin is needed to get the ball down and minimize the wind’s effect.

The sun can’t be so easily countered, but because players switch sides of the court, opponents are affected equally. The only hope players have to shield their eyes is a hat or visor.

“You just have to deal with it and just know that it’s probably going to bother you sometimes,” Ramirez said. “Just keep going for your shots even though sometimes you won’t be able to see.”

Masha Tritou likes quicker courts, so she loves playing at Drumlins. The temperature, wind and humidity are all relatively the same, and the courts play quick, Tritou said. But most outdoor courts play much slower, almost similar to clay.

Since the Orange isn’t afforded the luxury of traveling a week in advance, players often only get a day or less to warm up and adjust to what are often much slower playing courts.

“You have to adjust in those moments,” Tritou said. “In order to be a good player and a good team, you need to adjust on time.”

Syracuse is the only school in the ACC without outdoor courts to play matches on. All but two ACC schools, Miami and Syracuse being the exceptions, have both indoor and outdoor facilities. But even for the schools that have both options, the shelter of roofs and walls is reserved solely for when foul weather strikes.

“They’re still using the same rackets, same shoes, everything else,” Limam said. “Just trying to adjust to the elements more than anything.”

Every year, the Orange must leave the consistent atmosphere of Drumlins behind come the ACC tournament. But after months inside, maybe that’s welcome.

“I think they enjoy playing outdoors,” Limam said. “They miss the sun as you can imagine. It’s good to be outdoors sometimes.”

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