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San Diego Aviators tennis team hopes to fly high this summer

(L-R) San Diego Aviators owner Fred Luddy and CEO Billy Berger.
(L-R) San Diego Aviators owner Fred Luddy and CEO Billy Berger.

Most San Diegans are familiar with the Chargers and Padres. But the city has another professional sports team that brings big-name athletes to San Diego, which many locals may not know about — the Aviators of Mylan World Team Tennis.

This summer, the Aviators will play in seven matches at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, hosting pro teams from such cities as Austin, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Rancho Santa Fe residents Fred Luddy and Billy Berger are the majority owner and CEO, respectively, of the Aviators, and the coming season will be the second for the San Diego team, which had previously been based in New York.

Luddy and Berger said a more relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere prevails at WTT matches, in comparison with major tournaments on the pro tennis tour, such as the U.S. Open.

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“This event is more about the entertainment of tennis, the excitement,” said Berger. “It’s like a tennis festival.”

Spectators are not hushed if they speak or cheer during the matches, and an announcer calls the games, unlike during play in the majors, said Luddy. After the matches, the players hang out to give autographs.

“Kids get to see these world-class athletes up close and intimate,” said Luddy. “Every kid can get an autograph from every player.”

The WTT season runs from July 12 through Aug. 3, and includes a schedule of 14 matches, plus two rounds of playoffs, culminating in a final match. There are currently seven teams in the league, which was founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King, who still owns the Philadelphia Freedoms.

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Each match includes five sets, one each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. The teams are comprised of four to six players, with at least two men and two women on each team.

Ticket prices average about $35 for adults, and there will also be youth ticket prices, as well as group discounts and family packages. More information about tickets will be available at SanDiegoAviators.com.

Over the years, participants in the WTT have included a virtual Who’s Who of tennis luminaries, from Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova, to John McEnroe and the Williams sisters. Recently, Andy Roddick and Martina Hingis have played for WTT teams. The league will hold its 2015 draft in March. Last year’s San Diego Aviators team featured doubles stars Mike and Bob Bryan.

Last year, San Diego matches were played indoors at the San Diego Sports Arena, now known as the Valley View Casino Center. The new venue will allow for an interactive expo with food booths and a beer garden. Matches will be played on the resort’s tennis stadium, and Berger and Luddy anticipate as many as two thousand spectators. Match time is 7 p.m., and the schedule will be posted on the team’s web site when it becomes available.

Luddy became involved with the team two years ago, after meeting Billie Jean King. He said the WTT league schedule falls between two major tennis events, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Players enjoy the camaraderie of the teams, and it also allows them to get ready for the upcoming tournament, Luddy said.

“This really gets them tuned up to play in the U.S. Open,” he said. “They like the team environment. Tennis is a very lonely sport.”

Luddy, who founded a cloud computing company, and Berger, who ran his own sports marketing firm, want to reinvigorate San Diego’s tennis scene through the Aviators and the annual WTT league, and build a following for the local matches, similar to the enthusiasm shown by horse racing fans for the annual Del Mar meets.

Both men have children who attend the Roger Rowe School in Rancho Santa Fe, and also play tennis.

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“We’re trying to energize the sport of tennis and the tennis community and energize families around the sport of tennis,” Luddy said.


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