Tennis Fan Looking For a Vacation?

Let me first make this clear in the beginning: this is neither your usual "go to Disneyland or Las Vegas" article, nor is it the typical "this tennis resort has golf, that one does not" sort of comparison article. You will not read about why this guy's tennis camp for one week is better for your tennis game than the next guy's camp, or why you should go to some $5 thousand-dollar-a-week resort so you can also enjoy golf and a plethora of body lotions offered in your bathroom as amenities.

You have a bit of money saved, and you want to do something out of the ordinary, right? Lo and behold, you happen to be a tennis lover, too. Fret no more! You have several wonderful locations to choose from during the summer, many being international. And no, it is not as expensive as you think!

Furthermore, for you Americans that suffer from "the whole world hates us" paranoia — no, folks, Europe is not a dangerous place. However, you may have to sit next to a couple who smoke at the local café (oh my, the horror!). Still, if you must insist, there are tournaments in the U.S., also. Remember the term "U.S. Open Series?" It begins in July.

So there you stand, willing and able to combine a vacation and quench your thirst for some fantastic tennis.

Solution: take a week-long vacation to one of the many tournaments taking place in June and July.

Gather a group of friends, or plan with your spouse, and have the best time of your life. Forget about the boring tour guide type of stuff that people are brainwashed into thinking that it is the only way to discover a place.

On the contrary, pick a tournament, and go to that town without talking to a tour guide or a travel agency. Make your hotel reservations yourself, look for deals. Find maps online, try to learn about the place prior to getting there. Look in the ATP and/or WTA website, check out the calendar of tournaments and pick your location. Learn about the tournament that you picked and find out how you can get tickets.

Trust me, folks, I have done this many times over the years. And it's half of the fun: the thrill of planning such trip.

The other half is even better...

Once you get there, don't take taxis. Take the subway, the train, or the bus. Pick a hotel within the town or the city. If you are in Europe, don't ever, under any circumstances, rent a car. The money could be used much wiser on sights to see or even get a better ticket at the tournament. Plus, as this writer found out in Bastad, Sweden three years ago during the Swedish Open, driving in a country where the rules are different can cost you dearly. I was fined equivalent of $70 dollars for parking my car within 10 yards of a curve where one car came by every ... oh, let's say ... 45 minutes!

Eat at smaller, authentic restaurants. Check out the side streets when you walk. Stop at the smaller cafés on those streets and don't get Heineken or Beck's. Try the regional beer. Get the local cheese plate. If you are in London, for example, don't take the expensive five-star tour of London which promises you the world in an air-conditioned bus. Take the double dutch bus tour, or draw a plan on a map yourself, schedule a day, and stick with it, using the subway to get from one place to another. If you are in Kitzbuhel, Austria at the Generali Open, rent a bike and discover the mountains and enjoy the beautiful views.

Do you have kids? If yes, even better! I have taken my daughter to some of my previous trips and those trips represent some of our best times together. I know she will always cherish the memories and is ready to make new ones. Tournaments often have a fun kid zone with plenty of activities, sometimes including games related to tennis. And just wait until you see the sparkle in their eyes when they are on top of a Swiss mountain in Gstaad, or when they are in a car crossing the bridge that connects Europe to Asia over the Bosphorus during the WTA Istanbul Cup in Turkey, or simply when they are riding on the top level of a double dutch bus.

The key to this kind of vacation is that you are going on a vacation with a purpose. This is not your typical sightseeing vacation. This is not a guided tour of a city. And the main attraction is not some theme park or some casino. Also, avoid planning to go watch the tournament every single day. Go one day to the tournament, then discover the area the next day.

The thrill of such vacation is the fact that you created it. You decided on the location, you chose the accommodation, you made your own schedule. The main attraction of this vacation was created by you (the main attraction is the tennis tournament in this case, along with the city travelled, or should I say "discovered?"). As President Bush so aptly (or inaptly) said the other day, "You are the "decider."

Another advice: pick a tournament other than Roland Garros or Wimbledon. The slams are there so we can say "I have been there." But prices are outrageous (how about double-digits for four strawberries and a drop of cream?) and the tennis itself gets somewhat lost in you trying to figure out how to get where, how many people are in line to buy a souvenir t-shirt, and with questions such as, "Am I allowed to walk behind this line or that marking?" swarming in your head. There is also a good chance you will shortchange a good tennis match and leave it quickly, simply because you feel the necessity of walking around and seeing who else is playing on other courts. And forget about getting the players' autographs, unless you have a special plan to corner the player.

The experience is much more thrilling at smaller tournaments. You get closer to the players, get a detailed view of their fascinating footwork and stroke technique. Players interact with spectators easier. Perhaps you can get lucky at some tournaments and see them hanging around the shopping area or even get to ask them a question or two after the match in the food area. Autographs are not hard to come by.

Players will walk through the regular crowd to practice and will ask you to toss the ball back at them if it goes over the fence or the wall. They will be sliding on clay chasing a ball and end up just a few feet from where you are sitting. In the earlier days of a tournament, you will be able to move closer to the court without anyone hassling you if the stands are relatively empty.

It would not be fair if I did not include my recommendations. Here are three of them (not in any specific order):

ATP Generali Open (Kitzbuhel, Austria) — Fantastic location situated in the Tirol area of Austria by the mountains. The views are spectacular, the town buzzes during the tournament because it is the main attraction of the summer for this area, whose more worthy season is the winter skiing months. People are extremely welcoming and trustworthy. The tournament is held at a very nice facility, the stadium court is up to par with the best stadium courts in the ATP calendar. For some reason, this tournaments always gets more of the top players than other clay court tournaments of the same level. Obviously, fans are not the only ones satisfied with this tournament.

Kitzbuhel is a picturesque town with many cafes, cute architecture, and a vibrant nightlife. If you want a true European smaller town experience, all the essence is there. Beware, though: make reservations in advance for accommodation, as we are not talking about a big city here.

ATP/WTA Ordina Open (s'Hertogenbosch, Netherlands) — The neat thing about this tournament is that it is one of those rare tournaments outside the slams that hosts both a men's and a women's draw. The field is usually solid, too, since it is one of the four grass court tournaments in preparation for Wimbledon. The pretty southern town of s'Hertogenbosch (if the name troubles you, it is also called "den Bosch") with its canals and cobblestone streets in the center is simply icing to the cake.

I recommend getting reserved seating at this tournament. General seating is not numbered and you have to fight for seats towards the weekend anytime you leave your seat, including going to the bathroom. If you are with family or friends, sitting together can be a difficult task, so again, if you can afford it, pay a bit more and get reserved seating.

WTA Bank of the West Classic (Stanford, California) — Although this is a Tier 2 tournament, a non-slam tournament's player list does not get much stronger than this one. Last year, Kim Clijsters defeated Venus Williams in the finals and fans are guaranteed top quality tennis here every year.

The beautiful venue is Stanford University's tennis facility. The kids' day at this tournament is as good as it gets for little ones. The brunch offered on Sunday before the finals is a treat if you are willing to pay the price.

If those mentioned above don't tickle your fancy, WTA fans can take a closer look at Istanbul Cup in Turkey (it is in two weeks), taking place in one of the most historic cities in the world, or Palermo WTA Championships, a Tier 4 tournament, but after all, it is in the capital of Sicily. For ATP fans, you can consider Swedish Open, where the venue is next to the beach and marina, located in the artsy town of Bastad. Or you can still go to London, stay away from the hustle of Wimbledon, and enjoy a strong tournament field at Queen's Club, one of the nicest venues in the world of tennis.

As for me, I am betraying my own advice and going to Paris for the second week of Roland Garros. But it is not my vacation, I need to meet some old friends, take my daughter to the Eiffel Tower. I simply and conveniently made sure all "that" coincided with one of the four biggest tournaments in the world, that's all. I certainly will not go to the tournament on the weekend. I will be there during the week, though, enjoying quality tennis and plenty of crepes with "fromage et jambon" in the mornings.

Until next time, take care, everyone.

Comments and Conversation

May 15, 2006

Chris Bloomberg:

Great article Mert. I know you have been to many of these tournaments so thanks for the recommendations.

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