The serve comes over the net like a bullet. Miraculously, you manage a back-hand lob, and the ball is in play. You move up to the net and slice a volley for a winner. The audience in your head goes wild. Score: luv-15, against a guy who once beat Agassi, McEnroe, Becker. “That was good,” says your opponent. “Next time try to drive it down the line.”
Welcome to tennis fantasyland, where you not only learn from former Grand Slam champions, but you get to play against them in pro/am tournaments, then have front-row seats while they play pro exhibition matches. What more could you want (besides Anna Kournikova)? These camps allow Wimbledon wannabes up-close-and-personal contact with the heroes—and heroines—of the sport. On-court sessions included, as are breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and parties with the pros. Tennis players of all abilities are welcome, even one-time tennis widows looking to end their courtside vigils.
In the summer months, a few pros make the rounds of resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire. One of the premier fantasy camps is at the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The colossal 100-year-old Spanish Renaissance hotel and New Hampshire’s highest peaks serve as backdrops to the resort’s 12 red clay courts. Here, the pros run clinics and round robins, then hobnob in the elegant hotel every evening. Surprisingly, given the grand surroundings, this is the least expensive of all the fantasy camps. For a standard room in the hotel, the 2-1/2-day camp costs $299 per person per night, including all meals and daytime and evening child care for ages 4-12. At the Bretton Arms Inn or Lodge at Bretton Woods, the price drops to $249 and $199 per person per night, respectively (dinner not included).
The Mt. Washington Hotel hosts two fantasy camps this summer. The first runs from July 18-20 and features French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors and Davis Cup captain Tom Gullickson. The camp concludes with a pro/am doubles tournament. August 15-17, former top-10 player Tim Mayotte and two-time Grand Slam champion Johan Kriek headline the second fantasy camp. With no indoor facilities though, rain can shorten on-court sessions.
On August 19-21, Pernfors travels to the Inn at Essex, a full-service modern resort near Burlington, Vermont. The new home for New England Tennis Holidays, this is the first fantasy camp here. Joining Pernfors is his former nemesis and world-ranked #1 player Mats Wilander. At the 1993 U.S. Open, the two pros played a marathon seven-set match that ended after 2 a.m. Fantasy-goers will watch court-side as they meet again at the camp for an exhibition singles match. The inn has six new Har-Tru (clay) courts and access to three indoor courts at a nearby racquet club.
Four-time Grand Slam winner Guillermo Vilas returns to the Sugarbush Tennis School in the heart of Vermont’s Green Mountains over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4. Called the Inner Edge Tennis Retreat, the event focuses as much on the mental aspect of tennis as the physical. Yoga, mental focus seminars, and breath control are just a few techniques taught in this program. Held during the U.S. Open, Vilas—the 1977 U.S. Open champion—will also watch the U.S. Open on TV and provide a running commentary on the game. The retreat is held at the Sugarbush Health & Racquet Club, which has four Har-Tru courts, two hard courts and indoor courts if it rains. Costs run $1,249 per person, with lodging at the quirky but not quaint 44-room Sugarbush Inn.
Other renowned tennis programs in New England include the Gunterman Tennis School at Vermont’s Stratton resort, Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vermont, and New England Tennis Holidays programs in North Conway, New Hampshire. Although these resorts and programs don’t have the same cache that Grand Slam champions bring, their two- to five-day tennis getaways not only offer a chance to improve but also an excuse to get into the mountains, play outdoors in the cool mountain air, and end the day with a massage or even a hike. If your legs can stand it.