Racketeering

I think all couples should play tennis together. It’s a great way to expose weaknesses in your game (forehand, spin serve, etc.) as well as problem spots in your marriage (communication, someone’s getting fat, and so forth). And aside from the fact that you’re carrying a weapon, it really is a romantic sport. Adorable outfits. Lots of “love.” Just think of all the great romances that have sprung up on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon and RolandGarros:

– Agassi and Graf

– Federer and God

– Chris Evert and every top male player from                                    the 1970s

– Anna Kournikova and every spectator with a   pulse

– And of course the great love affair between                                       Serena Williams and herself.

For those of you who played tennis competitively as Juniors, I understand your reluctance to continue reading. Once you’ve been to one of these camps for months on end, gotten a 1986 perm, and been told by your coach that you look like cauliflower…the romance is sort of gone. For the rest of you, here are the world’s best and most passion-inducing options:

1. Roy Emerson Tennis Week, Gstaad Palace, Switzerland

Aside from the occasional funicular disaster, the Swiss Alps drip romance. Peaceful peaks, dramatic sunsets, and the stunningly turreted Gstaad Palace Hotel nestled in the heart of the Saanen Valley. Most people go there to ski.But twice a year (when there’s slightly less snow) Australian tennis legend Roy Emerson is choppered in to fix your backhand and ruin your marriage. Affable and upbeat, Emo (as the Aussies call him) is the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles and—at the ripe, skin-cancered age of 74—runs 5-hour clinics everyday for the entire six days you’re there (camp officials request that all guests be certified in CPR).

The reason I say Emerson Week will ruin your marriage is that there’s too much else to do. Horseback riding, squash courts, hot air balloons. And if I learned anything from camp it’s that people locked onto a tennis court six days a week will look for any excuse to do something else (Torture, Anyone?) You and your spouse will at some point get in a tiff, one of you will rent a mountain bike, end up in Germany, discover you prefer skiing, and never be heard from again. But go. Emo’s great.

2. IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Bradenton, Florida

The Bollettieri Tennis Academy is hands-down the most famous, sought-after, and not-inexpensive training program in the world. Founder Nick Bollettieri is also—in the words of the camp’s website—“one of the most influential figures in the world of tennis” (oligarch in Russian) and  a “legend who has transcended the sport” (long-since morphed into leather). But all the hoopla is understandable for a place that’s produced the likes of Andre Agassi (hates the sport), Monica Seles (got stabbed), Mary Pierce (father banned from all tournaments), Xavier Malisse (has panic attacks on court), Mark Philippoussis (got engaged on a reality show), Daniela Hantuchova (developed anorexia and now weighs less than her racket), Martina Hingis (dated the ugliest man in tennis then tested positive for cocaine) and of course Maria Sharapova (who always did excel at daily Cut-Throat Bitch and Endorsement Deal drills). Any questions? Oh yes, and another former Teen Queen phenom who—as a married adult—stalked a female writer I know.

Given the vast appeal of all this, weekend warriors will be thrilled to know that the Bollettieri Academy also has a grown-up division. These 3-day “Mini-Week “ packages are designed to “educate and drill in all aspects of the game including serve, return, ground strokes, volleys, overheads, approach shots, and specialty shots.” In three days. For those who’d also like to master Jedi mind tricks, the academy offers Max-Accelerated 3-day programs that recreate for adults everything offered in the Junior camp. Added Max features include Nutritional Consultation (cigarettes from an older kid behind the ball machine), Sports Massage (international co-ed dorms), Video Analysis of performances (see Sport Massage), daily private lessons (see Video Analysis), and one-on-one exploration of on-court mental performance (see Cauliflower). Morning sessions also include something called “Live Ball Warm Up,” which makes sense given that those white corpse balls were retired from Wimbledon years ago.

In terms of romance, the list of skills one can expect to pick up at the Bollettieri adult camp include: attacking, counterattacking, defense, posture, balance, and recovery. I’m not sure why these skills would be taught to Juniors because 1) children master these things naturally, and 2) such skills are clearly more useful in a marriage than a match. So head to Florida, take your spouse, and leave your poor talented child in the safety of its home. It can “friend” the academy on Facebook.

3. Sociedade Harmonia de Tênis, São Paulo, Brazil

The Sociedade Harmonia de Tênis foi fundada em 1930 por sócios do Club Athletico Paulistano, descontentes com a constante lotação das quadras de tênis daquela agremiação.

It’s Brazil, for god’s sake. Who cares. The camp has the word Harmony in the title, and you certainly don’t go on a trip like this to make sure you can beat your lobbing nemesis with the knee braces when you get home. You go to Sampa (São Paulo’s nickname) for sensory overload and a plethora of paulistanos (genetically sexy residents). You go for topless beaches (topless tennis?) and Carnival. You go to play tennis for five minutes, then run off to do things that will land you on YouTube. Not even the professional Brazilian players try very hard—because, in truth, nothing will improve your game like dancing in the streets (“Loose muscles are fast muscles”) or having your face painted by a man in peacock feathers. Kind of like the time in camp when the other kids decided it would be festive to draw all over my face with indelible ink and I inexplicably won my big match the next morning. (Although, full disclosure, I was later disqualified when tournament officials discovered that I was not, in fact, representing the Maori nation.)

But consider it. Whether you’ve never played, played professionally, or hate your partner with a burning passion, a romantic tennis holiday would probably do everyone a world of good. As globe trotters and campers alike will attest, even bad experiences somehow result in fond memories. I myself returned to the sport long enough to have a fabulous fling with a suave professional player of massive renown in his home country…but I’m not revealing who ‘til I get a book deal.

In the meantime watch the ball, boycott the Williams, and travel hard, my friends.

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