As a young child, Nelly Matiation would go to the local tennis club in her native Czech Republic with her father.
While he played his match, she would be off in a corner, racket in her hand, pounding a tennis ball against the wall.
Eventually, she drew lines on the clay floor with her foot, so she could see whether her shot was in or not, as she played against an imaginary opponent.
“The racket was basically bigger than I was, but I was figuring out how to hit the ball,” she said. “I fell in love with that. “
It was these early childhood memories which drew Matiation to the game.
Soon after that, her dad enrolled her in a local club, and she spent weekends playing in tournaments, progressing to the point where she began competing in junior tournaments in Europe, on both the ITF and European Tennis Association tours.
By the time she was a young teen, she was playing on some of the smaller World Tennis Association Futures events.
And at age 16, she was ranked in the top 20 in singles and top 10 in doubles in the Czech Republic.
“When I was a kid, my goal was was to be No. 1,” said Matiation, now 26.
“(Andre) Agassi was my idol; I had the mullet, I had the jean shorts, with the neon shorts underneath it; I was all decked out in Nike. That was me.”
She finished high school and earned a scholarship to Washington State University.
But her focus also shifted from concentrating on playing to coaching.
Matiation is the head coach/program director for Dimar Tennis World Inc., a new four-court indoor facility built east of the Langley Events Centre at Willoughby Community Park.
It is scheduled to open this month.
“I was lucky enough that in the summer, we had seven, eight courts in a club and we had four or five clubs,” she explained about her hometown of Teplice.
“It is huge having a place to play.”
Teplice is about the size of Bellingham, which has one tennis club, she added.
The town only had one indoor court, which meant during the winter months, she could only play once or twice a week.
“So having indoor courts, where you can play rain or shine, that gives a huge opportunity,” Matiation said.
The idea for Langley Tennis World came from Mariana Mueller, the owner and director of the club, who has lived in Langley for the past few years.
Mueller, who turns 40 this year, is originally from Bulgaria, and grew up a tennis fan.
She is also a recreational player.
A few years ago, her father passed away, leaving her some inheritance.
She decided to use the money for others.
“I saw the horrible conditions the courts in Walnut Grove were in,” she said.
“I was thinking something must be done.”
After getting in touch with Ross Dickinson, a director with the non-profit Langley Community Tennis Association, they partnered up and approached the Township.
“We were looking for an indoor venue,” Dickinson said. “And with the terrific support of the Township, we have this great opportunity to establish a wonderful facility for tennis year-round.”
The public-private partnership includes the Township, the Langley School District — which owns the land — the LCTA, and then Mueller and Dimar Tennis World, as the private partner.
The Township had been looking to build outdoor tennis courts in Willoughby Community Park, but didn’t have the short-term capital at the present time for the project, explained David Leavers, the Township’s director of recreation, culture and parks division.
“They have funded the development of the courts and we have given them the authorization to cover them and operate them for six-plus years,” he said.
After that time has elapsed, the temporary structure will come down and they will become outdoor courts, as per the Township’s original plans.
Mueller, who will collect the money from the facility over that time frame, sees this as an opportunity to help the game be accessible and affordable.
“My goal is for this to be a legacy,” she said. “Tennis is an elite game: most of the private clubs have just a certain number of people.”
Langley Tennis World will offer both recreational and instructional opportunities, including traditional court times, progressive classes for kids that start with smaller balls, nets and racquets, and new activities such as cardio tennis exercise classes done to music.
“This is not a move for the tentative; she took a huge plunge,” Dickinson said about Mueller. “She has put everything on the line. This is because she loves the sport.”
For more information, visit www.langleytennisworld.ca or call 778-298-0888.