On Court and Off With Cliff Drysdale

Cliff Drysdale arrived around noon accompanied by his wife of nine months DiAnna (formerly Belmonte) and the CEO of Cliff Drysdale Tennis Don Henderson. Before he took the court,

Cliff and DiAnna Drysdale at Hawk's Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida

Cliff and DiAnna Drysdale

I asked him what had lured him to take over the management of Hawk’s Cay tennis complex, one that frankly had been neglected in recent years.

“I saw the potential to really develop a great tennis component to what is otherwise a beautiful resort with so many activities,” he told me. “I really want to make this into a place that people around the country are really going to want to come to and enjoy.” His group demonstrated its commitment to the property by investing significantly in enhancements to the tennis facility. They put up new fences and windscreens, upgraded the water system for courts 1 and 2 (the original Har-Tru, which also have lights), replaced two hard courts with Hydrocourts, and resurfaced the remaining four hard courts. “I like this place so much that I proposed to my wife here,” Drysdale continued before quipping: “She didn’t think I was serious so I had to propose again later.”

Roughly 20 people, a mix of locals and a few hotel guests, turned out for the afternoon session. Drysdale took the court and after some South Africa-vs-New Zealand banter between him and Keenan, he launched into an introduction. “I’ve been watching some of you warm up,” he began. “I think we’ve now done 768 of these types of events, but I saw some strokes I’d never seen before. So we’ll take a closer look at those this afternoon and then break into teams for some doubles.” Half of us, he said, would be playing for South Africa; the other half for New Zealand.

Divided into groups of four or five, we spent the next hour plus rotating through five courts, working with a different pro?Drysdale himself among them?with each rotation. Generally fast paced, these drills afforded an opportunity to hit a lot of forehands, backhands, and volleys as pros suggested mostly tweaks to improve. Drysdale did encourage Ed, who had a Continental grip, to switch to a semi-western on his forehand, and in the drills Ed managed to hit with new-found pace.

There was a brief break after the drill session to grab water, Gatorade, or a beer before getting our team assignments for the doubles. Competition consisted of an eight-game pro set, no-ad scoring. Ed and I took on Thomas and another Roger, winning 8-5 largely on the consistency of Ed’s (0ld) sliced forehand, which unerringly found the court. With the matches over?the South African team won?Drysdale thanked everyone for coming and hung around for photos and autographs.

He was headed back to Key Biscayne, where he lives, before heading off with DiAnna to Australia in early January. He’s looking forward to 2012, predicting “Federer has got a real shot at winning one Grand Slam this year” and a good year for the resort business. “At our clubs tennis is certainly growing,” he told me. “The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne is our flagship property and it continues to grow, and it’s a little more challenging at Hawk?s Cay but we?re on our way, and Stratton Mountain in Vermont is going to boom. I love it up there and it’s going to be my place for the summer.”

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