Steve Contardi, who founded the Tennis Fantasies week 25 years ago, talks about the start of another 25 years.
RC: I’m pleased to see you’ve already scheduled the next session of Oct. 20-25, 2013. Any changes you anticipate?
SC: They have a beautiful tennis club at the John Newcombe Estates [which is a short walk from the Ranch] and they’re building more courts there, which we will have access to. That will help our program considerably. We start at 8:30 in the morning so if we have 30 matches to go on, typically we get about 24 of them on and 6 wait for the second round. Now should be able to put all the matches on at once. Then we can be more predictable about what time we finish and do some of the things we used to do. If we can predict an 11:30 finish, we can an exhibition match with four of the Legends or kids from the academy. Or maybe we’ll do a special clinic. So that will help the program quite a bit.
The other change is an evolution in the format. It used to be that almost everybody would play a singles match in the morning and a doubles match in the afternoon. This year, we had about 40% of the guys who played doubles only, which meant they played a doubles match in the morning and a doubles match in the afternoon. I think every year as our audience ages, I think we’re going to see more people saying, you know what I’m going to play just doubles. I mean, you have 5 days of tennis, and doubles will be plenty.
RC: What are the challenges for the future?
SC: The impossible challenge is to replace John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle with today’s players of the same stature. It’s not going to happen because the economics of the game have changed so dramatically that those guys are basically retired, they’ll do exhibitions for large sums of money. So we will fill in with guys that have the passion. Ricky Leach is a great example. Mark Woodforde is a great example. We had Murphy Jensen this year and he fit in nicely. So what we hope to do is aim at that 40- and 50-year-old generation [of pros] while still having Newk and his boys. So it will be a blending type of thing.
There are still guys out there. Take a Jimmy Arias. Take a Mark Knowles. There are guys out there that love the game, that have a passion for the game, and like being around people. That’s really the criteria that we’re looking for because they guys will tell you this is not a corporate outing where you come for two hours and you go home. They’re there for breakfast at 7 in the morning and the guys are sitting there talking and then boom you’re on the court and these guys all day long and into the evening until we finish at about 9:30 at night.
After you’ve been there for a couple of years, the legends are important so are but friendships you’ve made and even the format, which is different from what most tennis camps do. We’ll keep the enthusiasm of John Newcombe, which cannot be matched, the wisdom and the passion of a Roy Emerson. Emerson may not be able to go out on the court and play a fantasy match with a 4.5 USTA player, but he can certainly give a great clinic that everybody enjoys. And he can certainly tell stories—and those stories never get old.
RC: You mentioned that the crowd aging along with the Legends?
SC: It’s interesting. We had 21 rookies this year and I’ve not really done the statistics on this but you have to figure that the average alum is probably 58 or 60. We’ve got some guys that are 85 years old, we’ve got some that are 90 years old that have been coming for 25 years. But what we’re getting is we’re getting a lot of father-sons—we had six father-son combinations this year—and three of the sons were in their 20s, so they’re not necessarily attracted to a John Newcombe or a Roy Emerson but it’s something they’re doing with their father. We had a couple of brothers in their late 50s and they both had their 20-year-old sons, so it’s uncles and nephews. So we’re getting a good influx there and I would say that the average age of the rookies was probably mid forties.
It’s unique in that it’s a bit contagious. We have very few guys that come just for one year.
RC: You had a big crowd this year, no doubt because it was the 25th anniversary.
SC: Without question. Last year was down from our normal average and my suspicion is some of the guys held off last year to come this year, and I suspect that next year I’m suspecting we’ll be in the mid 70s. But we left there with real enthusiasm. We’re starting the next 25 years. And John Newcombe is so key because he brings so much enthusiasm and passion. I guess you could call him anything from the ringmaster to the master of ceremonies. He’s so passionate about it and he knows how to have the guys have fun Guys like Charlie Pasarell: Charlie’s got everything in the world and Charlie just shakes his head and says, “I love this week. Love this week.” And as long as the Legends love the week. These guys made their living by personal relationships and it transfers onto the guy—I mean a 100 guys this year and we could did not have a jerk in the bunch and seldom do we. Everybody just checks their egos an their titles at the door. You’re going to have a good time, you’re going to play tennis, you’re going to have a couple of beers. What could be better?