During my visit to Hawk’s Cay, I had a chance to interview the popular television commentator Cliff Drysdale, who was visiting the resort for a special clinic. A former Top 10 player in his own right, Drysdale won 34 singles and 25 doubles titles, reaching the finals of the U.S. National Championships in 1965 and taking the 1972 U.S. Open doubles crown with England’s Roger Taylor (defeating Legends Owen Davidson and John Newcombe). He also represented his country in 45 Davis Cup ties. He led the player boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 and became the first president of the Association of Tennis Professionals. When not on the road doing commentary for ABC Sports and ESPN, he lives in Key Biscayne, Florida, where his company manages the Tennis Garden at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne.
Your company runs the tennis operations at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne and Grove Isle Hotel & Spa in Florida, at Stratton Mountain in Vermont, at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun in Mexico, and now at Hawk’s Cay Resort in the Florida Keys as well as at numerous private clubs and residential communities. What do you look for in a resort property?
“I look for tennis resorts that have got more than just a few tennis courts because if you have two or three tennis courts it’s really impossible to build a dream tennis vacation. You need to have more tennis courts that enable you to make the combination work between local players and those who come into the resort. It doesn’t have to work that way every time but if you are going to have a 30- or 40-person tennis experience, you have to have more than two or three tennis courts. “
“I’m just really enthusiastic about the tennis resorts business per se. At our clubs it’s certainly growing. The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne is our flagship property and it continues to grow and it continues to get better because of the history of what we’ve been able to do there, and I’m hoping at the Hawk’s Cay resort, a little more challenging to accomplish that but we’re on our way, and certainly Stratton Mountain in Vermont is going to be my home for the summer cause I love it up there and that place is going to boom.”
What is your staff doing at resorts and clubs to foster the growth in tennis?
“The places that we are involved in have a few components that I’m hoping are a little different from what most places offer. We have programs and a tennis experience basically every morning. That gives the opportunity for locals or for people who are staying at the hotel to get together, to meet at 9 or 9:30 in the morning to enjoy a tennis experience: a little clinic and then some competitive play. To me, the problem with the resort business has always been that you go to a resort and you’re not sure whether you’re going to find a game, and for me the fact that we have a tennis experience every morning and game arranging means that no matter where you come from or how long you stay you’re going to be able to play tennis with other people at our places.”
Do you also have kids’ programs?
“At most of the clubs we have very vibrant kids programs: we have afterschool programs for example at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, that start off at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock with the smallest of kids and then it graduate to older kids as they get out of school. It’s a key component at every club that we manage, so we’re very, very kid friendly.”
What’s your take on Quickstart?
“Outside of instant replay on the pro tour and the challenge system, I think Quickstart is probably the best thing that tennis has got going for it. I think the bigger more generous ball that is not quite as lively as the regular ball, the smaller racquets, are superb for kids and I think it’s the single most important component in increasing interest in tennis here in the future.”
What are your predictions for 2012, especially in light of Roger Federer’s strong showing at the season-ending Masters Championships?
“Women’s tennis which is still struggling and I don’t see any prospect of any real change in that regard. I think [Federer's showing] is going to make this year in men’s tennis maybe the most interesting year in the history of pro men’s tennis. I think Djokovic is going to continue—I’d be surprised if he doesn’t. I think Federer has got a real shot at winning one Grand Slam this year; Rafa Nadal is a bit of a question mark; Andy Murray is not far behind those guys, and then you’ve got Jo Willy Tsonga, who played so well in London, at the year-ending championships, he’s part of the mix. I just think that this is going to be fascinating.”
There are rumblings of dissatisfaction among the current players particularly over scheduling. Where do you think that’s headed?
“I hope that the players get together and I hope they impose themselves on the decision-making process to a larger extent than the ATP allows them to. I think that they were right about their concerns at the US Open this year and I don’t feel that they get enough due from the Grand Slam events.”
How did you pick up the game in South Africa?
“I started out playing tennis like most people which is I hung onto my Mom and Dad’s coattails when they went to the local tennis club. And Johannesburg had and I think still has a great culture of families playing tennis together. I saw the game and I wanted to play and you could not keep me off the tennis court or away from the walls.”
What was the best advice you were given with respect to tennis?
“The single best advice that I was given, which I repeat a lot, is no excuses. Don’t look for reasons for failure because there are 100,000 reasons for failure, but if you can just take the attitude that you’re out there and that you’ve given it your best shot and you will not look for excuses that’s the best advice that I ever had.”