Words by Myra Foster
As a new season of Cliff Drysdale Tennis School gets underway on New England’s only authentic red clay courts, we pause to take a look back at the deep roots and long list of champions who have enjoyed the Stratton advantage.
When Stratton Mountain’s tennis center opened for play in 1976, John Newcombe hosted annual Legends matches that drew Grand Slam winners from all over the world to the Green Mountains of Vermont. Play was heated as Cliff Drysdale faced the likes of fellow tennis great Rod Laver but what fans remembered most was the friendly banter and practical jokes that a relaxed setting like Stratton evoke.
It would be almost 30 years before Drysdale decided to bring his renowned adult and junior programs to Stratton, where they now are ranked among the world’s best. Summer 2017 sessions officially launch with a three-day World Team Tennis Tournament over Memorial Day Weekend.
Even though it was decades between Drysdale’s early visits to Stratton and the launch of his academy, tennis was always a hit here on the mountain.
Andre Agassi made headlines as the wild-haired teen who defeated Paul Annacone to win the 1988 Volvo International Tennis Tournament, which called Stratton home from 1985-1989. In his memoir, Agassi called Stratton his “magic mountain.”
In 1986, John McEnroe returned from a seven-month sabbatical with his bride, Oscar winning actress Tatum O’Neal, to defend his Volvo title, having fallen from first in the world to fourth seed during his layoff. He faced tough questions from the press corps, an unrelenting horde of paparazzi and a loss to Boris Becker in the semi-finals. Ivan Lendl would win the trophy .
An avid golfer as well as tennis champion, Lendl never missed a Volvo tournament, and would go from court to course, once playing all of Stratton’s 27 holes after a surprising early round loss.
When Volvo moved on to New Haven, the Acura Women’s Hardcourt Championships moved in for a two-year run. Conchita Martinez won both trophies, defeating Zina Garrison in 1993 and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994. Martinez held up her giant winner’s check in the $400,000 tournament and declared “I’m going shopping” at the outlets in nearby Manchester.
Shopping and golf are just two of the reasons pros and amateurs alike love the chance to be in the cool Green Mountains with a premier resort as their home base. In addition to a top 10 tennis experience, Stratton offers a full menu of activities, adventure and events including a summer long concert series, farm-to- table dining, craft brews and spirited libations to celebrate a day well played.
About the author | Myra Foster was a reporter in Vermont during the Volvo events , and had joined the Stratton team by the time Acura made its debut. She vows to once again try tennis, but must first overcome that “duck and cover “ response when a ball heads her way, a reaction she blames on vicious games of elementary school dodge ball.