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Official Review by Chris Green, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Tennis is one of the most popular forms of outdoor activity in South Florida, with courts popping up all over the place. Miami is home to the Miami Open tennis tournament each spring, and the University of Miami is a regular NCAA tournament threat. However, Florida International University also has a long history of success in women’s tennis over the years, and that makes any tennis fan want to visit the west Miami-Dade college. However, despite the success, one may be disappointed in the quality of the facility and the experience.
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FIU tennis offers some vending machines nearby and an occasional free pizza day for students. Otherwise, one has to walk across campus for the nearest food to be found. As for on-site food, there is nothing to be eaten at matches unless you bring it yourself.
The atmosphere at an FIU tennis match can be thrilling, given the competition of the sport itself. But a big part of that is the small, but caring fans at the matches. As with most FIU sports not called baseball, basketball, or football, the only fans that seem to show up to matches are friends and classmates of the players themselves, and their families. Even with free entrance for all fans to all matches at FIU, there are rarely packed stands (made even more disappointing by the lack of stands as it is).
FIU's athletic fields are on campus, which makes it convenient to attend. Unlike stadiums in the middle of a city, there is a sense of security on campus as you are seemingly separated from the rest of the neighborhood around it. However, there still remains the issue of how that surrounding neighborhood looks, and it isn't exactly the best in Miami.
Sweetwater is a town known for political corruption and severe street flooding during hurricanes, and not much else. Put a college campus in the middle of it, and you have FIU.
The campus itself is growing by the day, with new construction all over the place and new buildings popping up. FIU's tennis court is all the way in the back corner of the campus. It butts up against the softball field, a local elementary school, some portables where FIU classes are also held, and the exit ramp from the Florida Turnpike. There are also very few hotels immediately nearby, making the idea of an overnight trip hard if you wanted to stay close to the action.
Tennis players are able to get their friends, family, and roommates to stop by matches, but that is generally the extent of the crowd. There is usually one match a year that gets a big crowd, and that's opening day. Other athletes may also come by the meets. However, as for organic, non-student fans coming to FIU tennis matches, it is hard to say when any come by as they rarely do.
Getting to any stadium at FIU isn't too hard, but traffic can sometimes be problematic. As is typical in Miami, traffic backs up right around the exits nearest FIU's campus on a daily basis. If you find yourself hoping to get to a game and rush hour happens to have lasted a little longer on that day, you may be in for a late arrival.
This is quite difficult as there isn't much you're investing beyond travel time and costs as all FIU tennis matches are free to both students and everyday fans. And if scheduled accordingly, fans can stop by the campus early for a bite to eat, watch the tennis match, and maybe catch a baseball, basketball, or softball game later that night when the schedules match up.
But with very few seats around the courts, it's hard to enjoy yourself on a hot afternoon unless you get lucky with a late afternoon match.
FIU students can earn panther points for attending FIU tennis matches, when they actually go.
There is also the occasional free pizza day at the matches.
Other than that, unless you consider a wide view of the softball warm-up areas or the nearby highway traffic, there's not much else to see at an FIU tennis match beyond the match itself.
Even the most ardent tennis or FIU sports fans find it hard to find a good reason to show up to FIU tennis matches. While the players on the court are among the best in Florida, and even though the team is one of the most talented and successful in the school, the actual facility is really nothing special. The court is old looking, the lights aren't bright enough for night matches, and the brutal Florida sun beats down on the courts, making for one sweltering experience depending on the time of year that the match is held. To make matters worse, UM's facility blows FIU out of the water, sealing the Golden Panthers' fate when it comes to attracting neutral tennis fans to a match.
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