December 20, 2014

From the Editor

A New Boost for Tennis Here

David Sendler

David Sendler

New and hot? (see p. 98). attention, tennis mavens of Southwest Florida. A man once ranked No. 7 in the world and No. 1 in doubles is back in town, and the level of play is bound to pick up. Emilio Sanchez of Spain, following up on an earlier try here, has big plans for making his Sanchez Casal Academy on Airport Road in Naples a major tennis center—both as a club for us all and as a full-service training facility for players aiming for national ranking.

“We’ve got 38 courts,” says Emilio, “making us the biggest clay court place in the U.S. We’ve got a system for teaching the game, and we welcome all players from age three through 90 and beyond. We’ll have clinics, master classes and local tournaments, and we’re talking with the USTA (United States Tennis Association) about having national and international tournaments here as well.”

By next year, the prodigies-in-training will get their schooling at the academy as well as their tennis. Emilio has a similar facility in Barcelona and tells us that U.S. Open champion Andy Murray started there as a teenager and trained with them for three years. “When we fi rst saw him,” recalls Emilio, “he was very skinny and walked funny, but when we saw him hit the ball on the run, we knew we had a very special talent to work with. We sometimes had to make him go to practice, but he was very clear in his determination to become a top player— and we’re not surprised to see what he has achieved” (as one of the top four players in the world).

“So, Emilio,” says this editor-tennis player, “what does your system teach?” Still trim and athletic at 47, he was on his feet and demonstrating in an instant. It was about positioning and getting the hand through the ball and more (additional tips later). “Look at (Roger) Federer when he hits,” says Emilio. “Straight up, on balance, with only the arm moving through the ball.”

Speaking of transcendent players like Federer, Emilio points out his own career spanned a kind of golden age of tennis—sending him against such superstars as John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. “I had a good, all-around game,” he says, “but didn’t have that one big shot to be able to overpower anyone.”

Still, he remembers great moments: beating both Wilander and Stefan Edburg—ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the world at the time—in a tournament in their native Sweden, defeating Becker and Wilander in Rome before losing to Lendl in the fi nals and coming back to win the championship in Rome another time against Alberto Mancini. In a match he’ll never forget—for the championship in the Australian Open—he came from behind against John McEnroe, fi rst rallying from 0-2 in sets and 2-5 in the decisive fi fth set to take a 6-5 lead. “I had three match points,” says Emilio with a wistful smile, “but I couldn’t put him away.” Emilio came so close to a major victory, but says, on the long plane ride home from Australia, he somehow realized his career would never clear that last hurdle to the top that he had always dreamed of.

Other memories? McEnroe always arguing—on and off the court. But on his game: “He broke all the rules of how you’re supposed to hit the ball, but he was a tennis genius,” says Emilio. “No one could—or should—try to copy the way he did it.” Emilio credits Jimmy Connors with perhaps keeping more pressure on opponents than any other player. He deeply admired Agassi’s all-court game. Sampras, he recalls, may not have focused on every shot, but knew his serve was so overpowering he could win title after title.

As promised, Emilio leaves us with a couple of tips: “Take the ball between your waist and shoulders—it’s easier to clear the net that way—and fi nish your swing in a circle.” His system worked for Andy Murray. So why not us? Thanks, Emilio, and good luck with the Academy