Diary of a Camper at John Newcombe’s Fantasy Tennis

Diary of a Camper at John Newcombe’s Fantasy Tennis

Here are my notes and impressions of each day’s activities at my third year of this great tennis experience! Click on “Continue reading…” to learn about the preparation, the great tennis superstars who were there (above), and a day-by-day recount of all that went on!


* The only negative I had from the first two years at the camp was how fatigued I was from all the tennis and had the threat of cramping from the extreme effort.

* So this year, I was determined to be in the best tennis and physical shape going into the week… and it made a dramatic difference!

* From June to October, I strove to play a full six times a week (weather and work permitting).

* In addition, my weight training program was fairly regular at two times a week. And this year, I added daily stretching to my routine.

* But perhaps the best advice of all came from my 89-year old mother who said, “Don’t try to hard; and just have fun.”!

* So for the first two days of tryouts and team practices, I controlled my “enthusiasm” and better paced myself. And although it was nearly or at 90 degrees each day, it wasn’t as humid as past years.

* So with all those factors, I felt great the WHOLE week long (my resting pulse never got above 56)!


The Legends:

















* The returning pros included: Aussies John Newcombe, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Owen Davidson, Mark Woodforde, and Ross Case, Americans Marty Reissen, Dick Stockton, and Charlie Pasarell; and second-time coach, Guillermo Vilas.

* Rookie pros” for this year were: American doubles champ Brian Gottfried and 77 Wimbledon doubles champ (with Ross Case as his partner) Geoff Masters.

* I was again on the Wankers Team, with Roy Emerson, Marty Reissen, and Brian Gottfried as my coaches (not to shabby of a trio!).


Sunday, Day 1

* As usual, Steve Contardi and all the Newcomb ranch staff running the show couldn’t be any nicer.

* There was another great ‘gift bag’ of stuff waiting for each camper: two Legend tee shirts, Legend polo shirt, a Legend sweat shirt, and a warm-up suit – all in a backpack tennis bag.

* The opening afternoon was the pro introductions and ‘tryouts’ for the four teams we would all be assigned to. The Legends stayed on the lower courts and evaluated the 25 or so rookie campers, while the Vets when to the upper courts and played some round robin doubles (I was on the winning team each round).

* Then we went into the opening dinner of surf and turf (beef tenderloin and lobster tales!) with nice wine on the table. But the fun was just beginning… there was a series of opening ‘remarks’ by Newcombe and Steve Contardi.

* The running gag for the whole week centered on Newk’s buddy (and Godfather of his son) Owen Davidson: Newk announced that Davo had turned over a new leaf and was no longer “influenced by the dark side” and he was now “Good News Davidson” … and he lived up to the part all week, starting each speech with the likes of, “Isn’t it just a great day to be here with John Newcomb and all of his friends?”

* The Legends had spent a couple of hours evaluating the rookies and negotiating the draft of all the teams before this dinner. They then announced the names of the 20+ campers on each of their teams as we each came up, got a team hat, tee shirt, and had our pictures taken. I was happy to have been one of those ‘protected’ by Emmo and returning to his Wanker team for the third year.


Monday, Day 2

* The morning was made up of team practice, where our Wankers played doubles; so our coaches could evaluate us for doubles pairings and rankings among the team. I was paired with four different partners, and we were able to win each set played.

* As a result, I was teamed with Terry Long of CA (he and I were undefeated dubs partners the year before).

* Dinner was barbeque style food and after dinner, there was the usual funny announcements/speeches; followed by a panel discussion with several of the Legends.


Tuesday, Day 3

* While last year I woke Day 3 very sore from all the tennis, this morning I felt great.

* Then this was the first day of the team matches: singles (for most) in the morning and doubles in the afternoon, with each day being against another team to determine the champs.

* In my first year, I played #8 singles and was moved up to #6 last year; and that is where they placed me again this year – although I felt I should have been about #4 on our team.

* As my first singles match was about to start, Marty Reissen called me over to say that my opposing team’s coach (Mark Woodforde) had warned him that their player made some ‘questionable line calls’ (a rarity at this event).

* During my first service game at the 30-30 point, I hit a ball that struck the net cord and dribbled over. My opponent immediately turned and walked away; so I asked him to pick up the ball in the forecourt and toss it back to me. And as he did and turned away, I could hear him saying (for my benefit) “Add out.” I immediately corrected him and said it was add in; and he countered, saying that my ball had fallen onto MY side of the net (even though he had cleared it for me afterwards)! I would have none of it and insisted the score was the way I had called it and walked to the line to serve out the game, which I did.

* Later that set there was one questionable line call that I did not argue and then another at the start of the second set. Since I was up 6-1, 2-0 at that point, I didn’t argue. But when Woody cruised over to my side of the court I asked his opinion. He said that he didn’t see the ball land, “but based on his body language after the call, I think he hooked you; but you’re killing him anyway.”

* In addition to the calls, he ‘went to the towel’ after every point – even on my serve (ala Greg Rusedski).

* I did win 6-1, 6-2 and learned later that even HIS coaches were happy with that result!

* After lunch, we went to our doubles matches. Even though Terry and I won 6-1, 6-3, our Wanker team lost day one.

* Dinner was Italian night, followed by another Legend panel discussion with Emmo and Fred Stolle.


Wednesday, Day 4

* Well, I woke just a little sore, but really feeling good and ready for the second day of team matches.

* My singles match in the morning was against Rich Tarantino – a friend of mine from Connecticut, who I recruited to come to camp, and last played singles with at his house over the summer!

* Villas was his coach and was on the court to watch and advise; so Rich calls over to him, “so Guillermo, I paid $4,000 and traveled 2,000 miles to play my friend George!”

* Since Rich is such a great retriever and we are about even on the soft court, I figured I should be able to control more on the hard courts. Combine the courts with the fact that he had a bad arm, I was able to come out on top.

* The points were long and hard fought, with most all the games being very close; so the 6-1, 6-0 score was not a true indicator of the match.

* In the afternoon, Terry and I were teamed up together and moved up to #2 doubles. With his incredible “drop shot serve”, great volleys, and my return of serve, we won easily 6-2, 6-1.

* Then, I still had to play my Fantasy doubles match: my partner was Geoff Masters against his Wimbledon doubles partner Ross Case and my morning singles opponent, Rich Tarantino.

* I was hoping to play my one-set Fantasy Match against some of the harder hitting Legends, just to see what that was like… and it was a lot of fun! Ross hit the ball at me a lot; and I was able to get most of them back in play. So with strong support from my Legend partner, we won the set by a solid 6-2 margin (…story to be continued).

* Even with another good personal day, our team again lost and was out of the competition.

* After a Mexican night dinner, we had some great dinner table conversation and more Legends from the podium.

* After that, “High Commissioner” Al Egan (along with his “Assistant to the Commissioner”, his “Legal Counsel”, and his 5 foot 2 inch “Sergeant At Arms”) adjourned everyone to the bar for the annual Australian Boat Races… a team beer chugging competition, which was once again won by Newk’s ‘very experienced’ team.






Thursday, Day 5

       * Woke up this final morning of competition feeling very, very good; with my resting pulse still only at 55 – and NO cramping problems.

* Marty Reissen spoke to me before my final singles match, saying that he could move me up on our team; but the other team was playing Willy Hoffman at their #6. Willy is an incredible retriever who slices back every shot, with great touch and lobs; so Marty wanted to keep me there (later I found out why).

* Brian Gottfried was the on-court team coach for my match and the #5 singles on the next court between Wanker Tom Sansonetti of Cheyenne, Wyoming and Alfredo Landsberger of San Paulo Brazil.

* After the warm up, I asked Brian for his advice on the match: “Plan to be out here for two hours!” was his reply.

* Our first set was a back and forth, with marathon points lasting 10-12-14 strokes. I served at 5-4 for the set; but was broken to go to 5-5; but was able to break back and then hold to win the first set 7-5.

* It wasn’t until a few games into the second set that I realized that his backhand retrieval/slice was better than his forehand retrieval/slice; so I pounded the ball at his forehand again and again… and the ball coming back became shorter and shorter each time.

* The second set was not as close, with my winning 6-2 to have an undefeated singles record.

* Brian came over to congratulate both of us, looked at his watch and said “one hour and fifty eight minutes!”

* Marty Reissen also came over to congratulate us both and showed me the handful of bills he had won betting on me to win against opposing Coach Charlie Pasarell! (Is that a Newcomb Camp version of “Win one for the gipper!”?)

* After that two-hour match, I turned my chair around to cheer on Wanker teammate Tom Sansonetti, who had just started his second set!! After losing the first one 7-6, he came back to win the second set 6-4; which brought the two tired campers into a third set, Champions Ten Point Tiebreaker. Tom was able to hold on to win the 2:45 grueling test.

* Then I walked back toward the clubhouse and stopped to watch my afternoon dubs partner Terry playing his morning doubles match. While losing a close match, he also pulled a thigh muscle (and I wondered what impact that would have on our chances to remain undefeated for the second straight year).

* At our lunch table, someone asked Tom Sansonetti if he thought Hilary would win the democratic nomination. He answered yes and then went on the explain the potential changes in the US primary system that he is proposing (!). Seems he was on the phone with Carl Rove earlier and will be on a TV debate on the issue October 31; since he is the former Republican National Committee Rules Chair.

* After the lunch break, I walked over to the courts for the afternoon (and last) doubles matches of the week.

* Emmo and Marty were sitting under a tree with their clipboards, looked up to see me coming over and said, “There he is!” Seems like they were just making up the afternoon lineup and trying to figure out who to pair me with.

* They recognized that I was undefeated in singles and (up to that point) doubles; and had already talked with my partner Terry and offered for me to be teamed with injured Terry and they would ‘play us down’ the ladder to have a better chance of winning; or… I could play #1 doubles with our team’s best player, Jimmy Miller of San Jose against the other team’s #1 pairing (and probably lose). With very little hesitation, I opted for the tougher match at #1.

* Although we had constructed it so my solid lefty partner would serve first with the sun to his back, after the warm up, he said the sun wasn’t too bad and he would rather serve on the other side, if it was OK with me to serve first.

* At the start of the match, I was just a hair tight and almost whiffed on my first return of serve; and we lost that first game quickly. We switched ends with my serving first for our team; and quickly got down 15-40. With good shots by both Jimmy and me, we were able to come back to hold my serve – which was a huge confidence booster for me.

* I then settled down and we played great together. Our opponents recognized I was the weaker of the two and tried to go out of their way to play the ball to me (bad strategy in general).

* We played great together and cruised to an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory… and I was undefeated in singles and doubles!

* Later in the day, I saw Roy Emerson who congratulated me on the big upset victory and said, “I saw you miss the first return of serve and had to leave to watch other matches; but I bet you didn’t miss many more after that!” (And he was correct).

* Since I had an early flight the next morning (good for me to get back to Naples and prepare my house for the impending Hurricane Wilma), I was not going to be able to participate in the Friday morning drills. So bottom line: I was done with my tennis!

* Or so I thought. Steve Contardi saw me and asked if I could fill in on another Fantasy Doubles set in 30 minutes. Sure, why not?

* Turns out it was with Geoff Masters and Ross Cass again – to whom I apologized for showing up again. But he said with a smile, “Good Mate. This time it will give me a chance to hit the ball THROUGH you!” And he surely tried. I was aced, passed and drilled; but got enough of them back for us to squeak out a 7-6 tiebreak victory.

* After Happy Hour that included fresh shrimp from the Gulf and dinner of fish and wild boar (yes, we did eat very well all week long), there was the Awards Ceremonies. There were thanks all around to the Legends who made our week wonderful, the great ranch staff of young pros and in the kitchen, and to Steve Contardi and his whole family who arranged it all. Then there were plaques and pictures for people who won all their singles, all their doubles, singles and doubles (me as one), Rookie of the Year, MVP, and several special awards including inductees into the Fantasy Camp Hall of Fame.

* It was a great official ending to a truly Fantasy Week of tennis with the Legends.


Friday, Day 6

* Well, the last day! No injuries, no cramping, and lots of great tennis and even greater people.


·     * With my early flight, I was standing in the lobby chatting with another camper, Andy Hallock of OH when Guillermo Villas came into the other side of the room. He turned towards us and said, “There is Mr. Perfect Backhand!” Andy and I both turned to see who he was talking about; and then he added “Mr. Perfect Record!” and smiled that Villas smile at me. Made MY day!


Tennis Tips:

* There were so many great tips and suggestions from the Legends, it would be impossible to capture them all; but here are some of the ones that were new or good reminders to me…

* High forehand volley (Mark Woodforde): do not take the racquet head back; not even to your side. Start with it out in front of you.

* Serve (Fred Stolle): If you are hitting it short, try to watch the ball hit the racquet (you can’t).

* Low volley (Mark Woodforde): critical to bend your knees – and not your back.

* Return of serve in the deuce court down the middle (Marty Reissen): step into the court diagonally; so that the ball does not control you, but you control the ball.

* Returning lefty serves: cheat to the left to reduce their window to your backhand.

* Angle Volley (Newk): keep the racquet head way out in front and have soft hands.


The week:

It was a great week for four equally important reasons:

* Tennis: In great quality and all the quantity you could wish for.

* Coaching: listening to some of the greatest to have ever played game tell you how to improve your stokes.

* The Campers: meeting and bonding with a diverse group of guys from all over the world and all stratas of society with one common bond.

* The Legends: socially interacting with greats of the game we love. Captured by what my doubles partner Terry said, “When I walk into the dining room, passing John Newcomb and he says, ‘Hi Terry.’ It doesn’t get any more surreal than that!”