Dolphins, Wayne Black’s kids, and Tennis

The Lagoon at Hawk's Cay

For me and other guests who arose early, the resort’s gravitational pull drew us to the beach and the neighboring pens of Dolphin Discovery. The “beach”, I hasten to note, is not a long stretch of sand along the Atlantic but a pebble-and-sand fringe around a man-made lagoon with a floating dock near its center (see the accompanying photo) and thatched umbrellas and clusters of lounge chairs arrayed around its perimeter. The dolphin pens lie just to the west, and it’s there, several times a day, that the dolphins perform. In the early morning, however, the dolphins merely amuse themselves: swimming around, poking their heads above water, and occasionally leaping completely above the surface, while saving many of their tricks for later. Several of us wandered by hoping for an impromptu performance.

Sam Keenan, Director of Tennis, Hawk's Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida

Sam Keenan, Director of Tennis

For me, this was prelude to the 90-minute clinic Hawk’s Cay stages each morning. Cliff Drysdale’s management group had taken over the operation in January 2010, installing New Zealander Sam Keenan to run the operation. He had run his own junior academy in Christ Church, New Zealand, and subsequently coached in Germany, where he also played club tennis, and London—the ladder under Roger Taylor at the West Side Tennis Club—and then joined the Drysdale touring team before being tapped for the American post. Here, he took over an eight-court complex that had been neglected, so his first order of business was overseeing the installation of new fencing and windscreens, a new water system, and the conversion of two of hard courts to Hydrocourts, bringing the final total to four hard and four clay, two of the latter with lights.

It’s an attractive, spaciously laid out complex set amid banyan and palm trees just steps from the hotel’s from entrance. I dropped by for the 90-minute daily clinic, joining seven locals for a mix of technical work on forehands and backhands supplemented by competitive drills, among them a four-player New Zealand favorite, “Dingles.” I asked Keenan where it fit into his approach to instruction. “I’m a big fan of live-ball action,” he told me. “It’s more realistic and people tend to get bored with hand feeding.”

Dingles begins with the two players at one end of the court simultaneously feeding a ball cross court and trying to keep those two cross-court rallies going on as long as possible. However, as soon as one player misses, Keenan or one of the players shouts “dingles” and you play out the remaining ball as a doubles point.

Brooke and Joey Black, Hawk's Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida

Brooke and Joey Black

Keenan awards a point only to the team that wins the doubles point but admits that some people argue that he should award a point for winning the singles as well. Either way, it’s lively and fun.

As our clinic ended, two kids headed to the court for their own turn with Keenan. They were the children of former Zimbabwe touring pro Wayne Black and his wife Irina (née Selyutina, who herself had played on the tour) and at ages 4 and 6 already had some exceptional tennis skills. But that turned out not to be the main reason they’d chosen this resort.

“I Googled ‘child-friendly resort’,” Irina told me as she sat on the pro-shop patio watching her kids, “and then looked at the reviews.” Their first stop had been Disneyworld before settling in at Hawk’s Cay. “Sam’s been great with the kids. They’d never spend an entire hour on court with us.”

Not surprisingly, given Joey and Brooke’s genes, they do not have the strokes of a typical Pee Wee tennis player. Although both play with small, light-weight racquets, they were accustomed to hitting regular tennis balls rather than the foam balls that kids increasingly start with. “We can’t get those foam balls in Zimbabwe, where we’re living now,” Irina told me. “It’s a good idea, though.”

Wayne wandered up later. I asked him whether he was still involved with tennis, since I’d heard he wanted to start an academy in Zimbabwe. “I teach some privately (at the court at his parents’ house) but the academy never really happened. Kids in Zim want to do five sports not focus on one.” He rarely plays himself, he told me. “If I get a good 18-year-old I’m happy to hit, but I don’t go looking for tennis.” He hadn’t set foot on the courts at Hawk’s Cay, opting instead to go fishing, snorkeling, swimming, and exploring with the family.

This was their last day at the resort and they were heading back to home via London later that day. “I’m sorry to miss seeing Drysdale,” Wayne told me. “I tried to extend when we heard he was coming but couldn’t.” I, on the other hand, still have another day and a half to go, with plans to spend that afternoon exploring the resort’s canals and harbors by kayak. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when Drysdale visits.

Next: On Court and Off With Cliff Drysdale

About 

Roger Cox is a veteran travel journalist who has spent 30 years covering tennis resorts and tennis camps. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tennis Resorts Online, the Web's leading source of tennis-travel information.

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