This is the start of the â€œbest week of my tennis yearâ€ and the travel to the John Newcombe tennis ranch in New Braunfels, Texas was smooth. At the airport I hooked up with a couple of returning veterans and several â€œrookies,â€ who had all the usual questions about what to expect.
And also as usual, Steve Contardi and all the Newcombe ranch staff running the show couldnâ€™t be any nicer. There was another â€˜gift bagâ€™ of stuff waiting for each camper: two Legend tee shirts, Legend polo shirt, a Legend sweat shirt, and a long-sleeve shirt â€“ all in a nice new tennis bag.
On the 20th anniversary of the camp, this is one of the largest groups of campers they have ever had: 91 players, with 20 of them being rookies. The more I come to camp, the more important it is to see and spend time with the friends made here. One good buddy, Terry Long says he comes back each year more for the campers than the pros.
Before the first session, I needed to warm up and get used to the hard courts; and ended up hitting with Brian Gottfried for 20 minutes. The opening afternoon was the pro introductions and â€˜tryoutsâ€™ for the four teams we would all be assigned to. The returning Legend pros included: Aussies John Newcombe, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Owen Davidson, Mark Woodforde, Ross Case, and his Wimbledon doubles championship partner, Geoff Masters; Americans Marty Reissen, Dick Stockton, Brian Gottfried, Charlie Pasarell and American doubles specialist, Rick Leach.
The Legends stayed on the lower courts and evaluated the rookie campers, while the Vets went to the upper courts and played some round robin doubles, rotating partners every eight games or so. I teamed with Willy Hoffman (soon to be of Naples) to win the first match; â€œmoved upâ€ to team with one of the top players at camp, lefty Jimmy Miller to win; and then played with another lefty against Jimmy and lefty Joel Drucker to lose.
Then we went into the opening dinner of surf and turf (beef tenderloin and lobster tails!) But the fun was just beginningâ€¦ there was a series of opening â€˜remarksâ€™ by Newcombe, Steve Contardi, a welcome to the rookies, and the High Commissioner of the Annual Boat Race (drinking contest).
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 23 campers on each of their teams as we each came up, got a team hat and tee shirt.
I was again drafted on the Wankers Team for the fifth consecutive year, with Roy Emerson, Marty Reissen, and Brian Gottfried as my coaches (not to shabby of a trio!). But there was some good negotiations and we got my friend Rich Tarantino (from Connecticut and now Naples too) + two other good players. Marty Reissen said he thought â€œwe were strong in the middle.â€
After dinner, we watched the Sox on the big screen in the bar â€“ and went to bed with a smile. (Although the forecast for Monday is rain and high of 61!)