The weather forecast hadn’t been promising, and as we awoke on the third floor of the Palace Hotel, that lack of promise was fulfilled. Mist and clouds obscured the mountains rising from the valley floor, and from the window we could barely make out the tops of the chalets standing on the hills just across the street. The parking lot was filled, although the hotel had only opened for its season the day before, and most of the spaces were occupied by black sedans bearing the Swiss Ski Team logo. The good news was the hotel would be lively. The bad? That we’d be competing for the best desserts with a bunch of hungry world-class athletes.
The other bad news, at least what I thought would be bad, was that we wouldn’t be able to use the Palace’s gorgeous red-clay courts, but instead would be bussed down the mountain into the village, to play on the Sport/Tennishalle’s three indoor courts. Last year, their slick rubberized surface had bedeviled us, and neither Lesley nor I were particularly eager to experience it again. But, at breakfast, another piece of good news: the courts had been resurfaced and were now covered by Rebound Ace, a mix “of polyurethane rubber, fiberglass, and other materials on top of an asphalt or reinforced concrete base” according to Wikipedia. The Rebound Ace, colored a striking blue, would play much slower and offer a better background against which to see and hit the balls.
And, we were assured by Roy, we’d be outside by Tuesday.
As was the case in 2012, our first day was broken into morning and afternoon sessions, with the morning focused on a single stroke or topic followed by drills, and the afternoon set for doubles play. The team of pros at our disposal was stellar and deep. Besides Roy, who would begin each morning with a mini-lecture relating to the stroke (and occasionally to the Wimbledon match on TV the evening or afternoon before), the team included Ramesh Krishnan, the son of India legend Ramathan Krishnan and a fine pro in his own right (ranked as high as 23, singles quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, former captain in the Indian Davis Cup squad); Jenny Byrne, an Australian whose WTA career included a #45 singles and #27 doubles rankings and a Comeback Player of the Year award in 1992; Roy’s son Anthony, a Florida teaching pro who also spent time on the pro circuit; three young Swiss teaching pros—Mark, Marco and Michel—and a terrific South African woman, Lucinda, who’d held the number one ranking in her country at one time.
The stroke was the forehand and, as usual, Roy’s instruction was simple and straightforward—hit off your front foot, take several small steps to position yourself, don’t swing too long or too hard. Ramesh led the demonstration, and we divided onto the three courts to show how well we did—or didn’t—pay attention. By noon, when the Palace mini-buses returned to collect us for lunch, Ramesh was already planning a trip … to the pharmacy.
“My muscles can’t get loose, and I need to find some cream,” he said, with a bit of resignation. “It was 100 in Madras, where my tennis center is, when I left the other day. We don’t get weather like this in our winter.”
Lunch was a lavish buffet—salmon, beef, chicken, bass, salads, and a spread of desserts like homemade ice cream and apple crumble. A handful of us—we’d numbered 20 in the morning—began to add wine to our training table.
By 2:30, Roy announced a slight change to the schedule. We’d split into two groups, each getting one-and-a-half hours indoors, which meant we’d be able to play some doubles. Lesley and I were sent to different courts, and I wound up playing three sets with Jenny Byrne, in two of which—unfortunately—she stood on the other side of the net. Happily, the tennis was fantastic—it never hurts to lose to a good (no, make that great) player, if he or she is having to play at a high level. And I’d like to think that Jenny did.
By dinner time, however—a five-course meal served on beautiful china by a wait staff in tuxedos, dinner jackets, and crisp uniforms—there was a lot of hurting in legs, backs, and arms. We joined the wine drinkers, and self-medicated with a fine Tuscan primitivo. By then, our friend Fabienne, who lives in Gstaad during the high seasons, had made her way from her home in Basel, where she oversees the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art’s New York gallery (when she’s not in her Tribeca apartment). And she brought even more good news. By Wednesday, her phone’s weather app showed only sunny icons in the forecast.