Just as Emmo had predicted, the skies cleared late Tuesday morning, and by Wednesday—in time for the weekly Alpine picnic catered by the Grand Palace restaurant staff at the top of one of the local ski hills, where cheesemaker Rudy relocates his cows for the summer and in a modest farmhouse (more hut than house) makes his cheese—the sun shone brightly, if not especially warmly, and every view seemed a picture-perfect landscape.
By now, our group was beginning to get to know each other. We number 23 playing campers, and four or five spouses who aren’t on the courts but join us for meals. We seem to range in age from the low thirties to the upper seventies, with one father’s daughter perhaps a bit younger. More than half of us are from the US, mostly New York and Florida, and the Floridians have been a bit shellshocked by the cool temps (actually very nice, for the most part, for tennis). The rest of us include a couple of locals who have homes in Gstaad, a handful of Englishmen and women, a Canadian, and a German. We’ve got a doctor, a dentist, an art institute overseer, a tennis club manager, at least one lawyer, and a variety of retirees. Five of us—including my wife and myself—attended Week 2 in 2012, when the heat on a couple of days approached a dangerous level, at least for us old folks. This year, the sweats have stayed on for the better part of many sessions.
Gstaad, on the other hand, hasn’t changed much at all. If you’d like to get a better sense of the town and what it’s like during a Tennis Week, check out last year’s blog on this site. We were out and about more than we’ve been this year, but from what I’ve seen, my 2012 observations still stand: it’s a wealthy, iconic village that plays bigger than its size. The only significant addition is the new Hotel Alpina, slightly higher up the mountain. Locals gossip that it caters to rich Russians, and a couple of campers who’ve gone for morning runs in the vicinity have remarked that it seems to have a waterfall in the parking garage. “Yes,” confirmed one resident, “and it becomes an ever-changing ice sculpture in winter.” I still have no idea if he was joking, but given that the Gstaaders are currently putting the finishing touches on a beach volleyball stadium erected in the middle of town, pretty much anything is obviously possible (and encouraged).
Tuesday began with the backhand, ably demonstrated by Lucinda, who I mentioned last year had been number one in South Africa, but grew frustrated by that country’s lack of support for its women athletes and turned to teaching. Lucinda would, on Wednesday morning, give me a two-on-two lesson in the meaning of the word “respect,” pounding my partner and me into submission with topspin backhands, big serves, and crisp volleys. Despite my continually pointing out to her that I would have provided a private jet to get her from continent to continent had I run the South African tennis federation, she showed no mercy.
Still, Lesley and I had already had our moment on Tuesday afternoon, playing a mixed doubles match against Mark, a Swiss teaching pro, and Christiane, who has attended a Tennis Week something like 25 years in a row. Mark grew up in a small town about an hour’s drive from Gstaad, the son of a tennis teacher and, now, a pro hockey star with the Zurich squad in the Swiss national hockey league. So tennis—and this weekend—was something of a holiday. But he didn’t seem particularly relaxed when, serving for the match at 6-5, we broke him and went on to win the tiebreaker. I kept waiting for the hip check as we switched ends, but—thankfully—he was thinking ahead to the glass of port he would have as his nightcap in the lounge at the Grand Palace.
The Palace, and its red clay courts, never looked so lovely as on the sunny (at last) Wednesday morning when Roy and team gathered to show us how to volley properly. As perhaps the greatest doubles player in history, and having what he describes as a “pathetic” serve, Roy relied on great hands and anticipation, and his volley remains a thing of beauty. But the greatest beauty on this day were the views surrounding us at the Alpine picnic.
Normally the Grand Palace head chef Peter Wysse does not make the five-kilometer climb with his staff, but this week—still early in their summer season—he did. So we were treated to a six-star chef grilling lamb chops, shrimp skewers, chantarelles, bass steaks, chicken, and beef tornadoes while we sipped a Swiss white and listened to host Rudy serenade us with his accordion.
When Rudy, his wife, Roy, chef Peter gathered on the farmhouse porch to sing the Swiss anthem, “Edelweiss,” it was a perfect close to a fine day.