Cindy Shepard collects tennis balls with rubber gloves Monday at A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Cindy Shepard didn’t want to wait.

Almost as soon as she heard that the A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center was opening, the Sidney resident was booking one of the center’s first court times for 10 a.m. Monday morning.

“I love it. I absolutely love it,” she said. “I want to stay active. I don’t play golf, and this is just a lot of fun.”

A-Copi closed due to the coronavirus on March 24 with Gov. Janet Mills’s order to shut down all non-essential businesses, and re-opened Friday as part of the second phase of Mills’s re-opening plan, giving the area’s tennis players an indoor option, as well as a site for lessons and clinics.

Shepard said she was relieved to see the center back open.

“Some of my other tennis friends, we were playing three or four times a week,” she said. “And before this hit, we were in the locker room one day and I said ‘I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have tennis.’ And a couple of the other ones said the same thing.”

Shepard’s friend Kristie Rowell was a guest playing on Monday, but said she could still appreciate the benefit of the club being available again.

For those people that are paying a membership, it certainly is great for them to have this place back open so they can come and see their old friends and get their tennis in,” said Rowell, a Winthrop resident. “Not everybody wants to play outside. It’s been a tough situation for the owners of the club, I just can’t imagine how disheartening it’s been for them to be closed as long as they have.”

Kristie Rowell returns a serve with rubber gloves during a match Monday at A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

A-Copi manager Alex Stern said closing in the middle of a busy period was difficult, but that he was happy to get the go-ahead to resume business.

The entire time that we were closed, people were emailing, calling, just wondering when we were going to be able to open up,” he said. “People were definitely anxious to come back in here and play some tennis.”

There hasn’t been a rush, however. The courts were largely empty on Friday, and Monday morning was slow at the start as well. Stern said that that’s expected, and he’s confident that will change in time.

“During the summertime people want to be playing outdoors, the weather’s beautiful. So the summertime is normally a slower period for us anyway,” he said. “I have no doubt we’ll get back to where we were. It will just take a little bit of time to get back in the groove of how things were rolling, but absolutely, come August and September, we’ll be back where we were in March.”

What hurt, Stern said, was losing the early spring, when the weather is too cold, wet or unreliable to play consistently outdoors.

“March and April are still very busy months for us,” he said. “It’s later in May and June to now, where people are really playing more outside. So for us, losing the rest of March and April and the middle of May, those were the tough months for us.”

Stern has seen some business pick up for the first few weeks, however.

Cindy Shepard, right, watches Kristie Rowell return a serve during a match Monday at A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We’ve already had people emailing and calling to get back in clinics, we’ve got some court time going on,” he said. “I think these next couple of weeks we’ll get more and more people calling in to come to clinics or just to book some court time once word gets out more that we’re open.”

Stern said the facility has taken health precautions seriously. All staffers at the front desk wear masks, only two of the four courts are used at a time, clinics are limited to four players at a time and balls and ball hoppers during group sessions are handled only by the pros. At the desk, all purchases are made via card, check or cash, and any change can go into an account to prevent handling extra bills and coins.

I think we’re doing a good job,” Stern said. “I think we have all our regulations in.”

Those could be eased back — Stern said the center will re-evaluate the precautions every two weeks — but for now, the emphasis is on safety.

“The thing that I keep telling the board of directors here is that if we get a case of coronavirus in here, we may have to shut down again. So we don’t want to rush,” he said. “We’ve got to keep everybody healthy. That’s our main focus.”

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