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Tennis center named for Atlanta champion

Q: Who was Bitsy Grant of the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta?

A: The Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, located on Northside Drive, was named for Bryan “Bitsy” Grant Jr., an Atlanta tennis icon and among the world’s top-ranked players in the 1930s.

Grant was born into a tennis family on Christmas Day 1910 in Atlanta. His father was a Southern doubles champion and his older brother captained the Georgia Tech tennis team, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Grant began playing tennis as a child, and was winning major tournaments by the age of 16. Nicknamed “Bitsy” for his small 5-foot, 4-inch frame, he dominated the court. During his tennis career, he compiled an impressive list of victories, including three U.S. Clay Court Championships and 19 national senior singles titles. He was also a member of three U.S. Davis Cup teams and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972.

The center has been a staple to the Atlanta tennis community since it was built in 1952. It possesses the only public clay courts in Atlanta and is the area’s largest tennis complex. In all, the facility contains 10 hard and 13 clay courts.

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In an effort to improve the parks in Atlanta, then-Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield financed the construction of the tennis center, said Peter Howell, chairman of the Friends of Bitsy Grant Advisory Board. The park was immediately named for Grant, who was reportedly embarrassed by the honor.

“You put my name on the building, and I am not even dead yet,” Grant stuttered, according to Howell.

Still, Grant played at the tennis complex bearing his name nearly every day. Spectators would watch him in the afternoons, and he often played shirtless, which is not traditional tennis etiquette. Although he did not coach, he gave advice to players around the center, Howell said. Grant died of cancer in 1986.

The center has hosted several major tournaments, including the 1955 U.S. Clay Court Championships and the 2012 ATA Nationals. Over the years, several famous players, including Arthur Ashe and Bobby Riggs, have competed there and brought national attention to the center.

“If you go anywhere around the country, anybody that plays tennis asks you if you have played at Bitsy Grant,” said Howell.

Over the past decade, the center has undergone expansions and renovations. The center raised $1.2 million to go toward renovation efforts, including updating the locker rooms. Most recently, two shaded viewing decks were installed, said Howell.

Today, the center hosts more than 60 ALTA teams, USTA leagues and junior league teams. Around 1,600 people utilize the center each week, Howell said.

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail q&a@ajc.com or call 404-222-2002.

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