Now I’m back in New York City, and reflecting on the week. Among the thoughts:
- Expectations were met, and in many ways exceeded.
- The Legends, to a man (although I’m glad I didn’t claim to have aced Coach Stockton), were gracious, generous with their time and their knowledge, and warm.
- We lucked out on the weather—three out of four full playing days were in the high 70s, and during none of the six days did we have any rain. Given that, in the past, it has occasionally been either stifling or wet much of the time, this was about as good as it gets (unless one likes 90-degree heat).
- The drinking was at a much more modest level than I feared. In fact, I can’t say I ever saw someone who’d visibly (or audibly) overindulged.
- The instruction—which I hadn’t really factored in as an important aspect of Fantasy Week—was outstanding. In particular, Emmo’s serving clinics and Rick Leach’s volleying sessions were unforgettable.
- The accommodations, while hardly fancy, were clean and comfortable, with laundry service three times during the week (meaning, for me anyway, that I could wear clean outfits in the morning, the afternoon and the evening every day).
- Every camper I met was grateful to be there, engaged with each other, and excellent company.
I also found myself thinking a lot about the sustainability and the future of Fantasy Week. One day at lunch, sitting next to John Newcombe as he wolfed down a plate of burgers and fries, I asked him about the future of Fantasy Week. “Next year will be our 25th,” he said, “and I don’t see this ever happening again. We’re gradually working in some younger legends—Leach and Woodforde this week, perhaps Mark Knowles next year or down the road. But the younger pros like Sampras or Agassi or Connors or Courier have different financial expectations than we did. And there’s much less camaraderie among them. We like being around each other, hanging out, and the guys who come here love that aspect.”
But, as Newk well knows, age can make the travel, the teaching, and the court time difficult. A sciatic nerve problem kept him out of the fantasy doubles play this year, though he says it’s healing. Emmo and Marty Reissen both have obvious mobility issues. They might have five decent years ahead, maybe 10, like Davo, Stax, Snake, and Newk himself, but beyond that it’s probably a dicey bet.
One camper, talking about his decision to come this week, said it had come down to his response to a question his buddy had asked a few months ago. “Do you believe in reincarnation?” his friend said. “No,” the camper replied. “Well,” responded the friend, “then you better go now, because you can’t be sure you’ll ever have the chance again.”
When I got back to Manhattan, I called Steve Contardi to ask him to share his thoughts on the week, and the path going forward. “With next year being the 25th anniversary,” Contardi began, “I expect a pretty good crowd. Over the years, we’ve touched a lot of people, and something like a fraternity has developed around this week. If we get the numbers I expect, we’ll also get back to our normal contingent of Legends, with Fred Stolle and Charlie Pasarell returning. We’re also aiming for another Aussie—maybe Mal Anderson, or Ken Rosewall, or Tony Roche. But it’s too early to know for sure who could make the trip. We’re definitely planning to dip into our roster of old Legends though.”
“In addition,” Contardi continued, “we’re hoping to add another Legend pro.” I noted that Newk had mentioned Mark Knowles, the doubles specialist from the Bahamas. “I don’t want to name any names now,” Steve cautioned, “but Mark would make a fine candidate.”
The 25th anniversary would emphasize the reunion aspect, Contardi anticipated. “We’ll celebrate memories, and try to build stronger tie-ins with our sponsors. We’ll also continue to beef up our clinics. This year, I noticed more and more of the attendees got involved in the 4:30 sessions as the week went on.”
“What happens after the 25th?” I asked Contardi. “Can this model be sustained?”
“As long as John has the enthusiasm to be an active participant,” Steve answered, “this will go on. My vision is that we’ll start to get younger former tour pros, ones who haven’t made so much money that they’re disinterested in what we have to offer, and ones who will do the ‘heavy lifting,’ the engagement that makes this so special. In that vein, Fantasy Week can go on for years. It will still be an unique experience. There’s nothing like it.”
As a rookie, I could hardly disagree. And, as a realist, I recognized that next year might well be a swansong of sorts for what one might think of as Fantasy Week 1.0. That made it seem like a don’t-miss moment.
But Fantasy Week 2.0?
That could be very cool too.
The 2012 Legends camp takes place Oct. 21-26