Pro tennis is returning to Vermont for the first time in more than a decade.
The Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic will provide fans with the chance to watch top players compete in a warm-up tournament for the U.S. Open. at Spruce Peak from Aug. 22-24.
Grand Slam Tennis Tours, a Stowe-based, tennis tournament travel package company, and Top Notch Management, a professional athlete agency, are putting on the event.
Andrew Chmura, owner of Grand Slam Tennis Tours and a partner for Topnotch Management, said the tennis community is large in the region. Stowe has around 300 tennis courts, or one for every 14 people, he said.
The tournament is a throw back to a time when Stowe hosted the Head Classic, between 1978-1983. The event moved to Stratton, before eventually leaving the state.
“There’s a lot of people in town that remember being ball boys for that tournament, that are excited to be coming,” Chmura said in an interview on Tuesday.
Vermont last hosted a professional tennis match in 2007, when the U.S. lost to Russia in a nail-biter FedCup event at Topnotch Resort in Stowe.
The Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic serves as a warmup for the upcoming U.S. Open, and has attracted top talent as a result.
“The talent is world class,” said Kyle Ross, the tournament’s director. “These are people who are heading to the U.S. open and one of them could easily make a run to the round of 16, or to the semis.”
Competitors include Tommy Haas of Gernany, former Number 2 in the world, Vasek Pospisil, the Number 2 ranked player in Canada, and Albert Ramos-Viñolas of Spain, currently ranked Number 22 in the world.
Americans Frances Tiafoe Jr. and Jared Donaldson, 63rd and 64th in the world respectively, will also take the court.
“We have a pretty active athletic community, and there aren’t too many professional events in Northern New England. This kind of fills a niche or a need,” Chmura said.
The efforts to create the tournament have led to an even bigger event – “Tennis Week in Stowe” – which is also launching this year, something organizers hope to expand in future years.
Activities will include clinics, U.S. Tennis Association New England meeting, and a UTR tournament, an open competition where players are ranked by a computer and matched against an athlete of equal ability, regardless of gender or age.
The Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic has been in the works for more than seven years. Everything was ready to go with the event last fall, but the acquisition of Stowe Mountain Resort, the tournament’s venue, by Vail Resorts forced organizers to put things on hold. The event got the green light in late spring.
“To build courts and a temporary stadium and finish that in time is a challenge,” Chmura said, adding that getting the word out has also been difficult.
The brand new courts and temporary stadium are nearly ready to go, with finishing touches currently underway. Over half of the tickets for the over 2,000 seat stadium have been sold with a week to go.
The tournament is also expected to benefit the region economically. For the FedCup in 2007, 75 percent of tickets were sold in Vermont, while the Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic has sold over 50 percent out of state, according to Chmura.
“There’s going to be thousands of people traveling to Stowe and to Vermont to stay, eat and enjoy the last week of summer,” he said.
Ross, who works for Grand Slam Tennis Tours, said the experience for fans is unique. Tennis stars normally compete in front of tens of thousands of fans, in stadiums located in a “concrete jungle,” he said.
“It’s an intimate kind of event,” Ross said. “You’re sitting in your seats looking at the court and you have the trails of Stowe in the background.
“People will be bringing picnic blankets and watching players smash forehands ten feet in front of them. You can’t do that anywhere else.”