Rene Schwartz, the general manager at the Waterville Valley Tennis Center, hits a backhand volley to Director and USPTA Pro Tom Gross Jr. JOHN KOZIOL
WATERVILLE VALLEY - For the 10th consecutive time since the list was established, the Waterville Valley Tennis Center has again been named a Top 25 resort in the world by Tennis Resorts Online.
The annual rankings of the Top 100 Tennis Resorts and Camps were released May 1 by Tennis Resorts Online, and the WVTC was ranked the No. 25 resort overall and No. 4 for Best Value for the Dollar. The results once more earned WVTC a "gold medal" among resorts.
Mike Kenney, center, the president of New England Tennis Courts, explains work that needs to be done to a court at the Waterville Valley Tennis Center to General Manager Rene Schwartz, left, and Director and USPTA Pro Tom Gross Jr., right. JOHN KOZIOL
According to Tennis Resorts Online, the rankings are based solely "on reviews submitted by vacationers over the past year" and include a summary of the vacationer's experience as well as an evaluation of the resort or camp on "more than 20 criteria that range across the entire gamut of the vacation experience, from the quality of the tennis staff, instruction, and programs to such creature comforts as the lodging and cuisine."
Tom Gross Jr., the director and USPTA pro at the Waterville Valley Tennis Center, hits a lob volley back to Rene Schwartz, the facility's general manager. JOHN KOZIOL
The No. 1 resort in 2014 was the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida while the top camp was the Roy Emerson Tennis Weeks held at the Gstaad Palace Hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland. Tennis Resorts Online cautioned readers that the rankings can be misleading because all the resorts and camps it listed "have a proven record of catering well to the needs of avid tennis players. The choice comes down to one final issue: Which one suits you?"
Roger Cox, the former longtime Tennis Magazine travel editor, created Tennis Resorts online, and the WVTC has always been in his Top 25 resorts and at times has also been named for having a Best View.
Of the WVTC, Cox said it was "among the most beautiful places I've played."
Tom Gross Jr., WVTC director, USPTA professional, and one of its owners, readily agrees.
Born and raised in Manchester, Gross was taught to play tennis by his parents when he was just 3. Tom and Carol Gross, who will be 96 and 90, respectively this year, taught him on a clay court in their neighborhood. A 1971 graduate of Central High School, the younger Gross starred as a freshman on the inaugural New England College tennis team and later was inducted into NEC's Hall of Fame.
In between, Gross honed his playing - and also what would become his teaching skills - at the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Franconia, which was opened in 1962 by Jack and Peg Kenney, who, in addition to training generations of players and professionals, are the grandparents of skiing legend Bode Miller.
After college, Gross was hired in 1975 by Rod Laver - the only player to have twice won tennis' Grand Slam of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Opens in a single year - to teach at the Laver-Roy Emerson Tennis Holidays, which held camps throughout the country, including at Waterville Valley.
Gross said being named a Gold Medal Resort for 2014 is "a true honor and a tribute to the natural beauty of Waterville Valley. The mountains make us all better."
This year, the WVTC - whose first court was built in 1884 - will host the 33rd New Hampshire Open Tennis Championships and in 2014, there will again be a Kenney-connection to the facility, both through Gross and the New England Tennis Courts company.
NETCO was founded in 1952 by Kenney and is now run by his son Mike, who alsois Bode Miller's long-time trainer and former employer. Prior to his skiing career, Bode annually helped maintain clay courts, including WVTC's.
"The key with clay courts," Kenney explained, "is that you have to look at them like a doctor looks at a patient because they're all different," meaning each wears and plays uniquely.
Before the start of every season at the WVTC, NETCO is on hand to do a variety of maintenance, said Kenney, who added that the underlying clay, taken from the nearby Mad River Valley, has held up very well.
Clay, said Kenney, is again "hot" in the tennis world because of the success of clay-court specialists such as Spain's Rafael Nadal and because many coaches recognize that it is the ideal surface to teach and learn the game.
Because balls bounce higher and because rallies are longer on clay, players have to learn a broader range of skills, Kenney said, most importantly, how to construct points, something that they might not be able to do as readily on hard surfaces.
Clay is also "in," Kenney added, because it is softer and more forgiving on players' ankles, knees and elbows, all of which helps them play tennis more often and longer into life.
As Miller's trainer, Kenney said tennis is a perfect complement to skiing, adding that studies have shown athletes do better in their given sport when, in the off season, they participate in another sport, rather than time exclusively in a gym.
Miller's longevity as a skier is testimony to the value of cross-training, said Kenney, while the return of clay "has been nice for my business."
Kenney said some of the best clay courts he's seen can be found at the WVTC. The courts there and those installed or maintained by NETCO are done well, he said, "Because we're tennis players so we have an edge."
Gross said he was proud of the WVTC's connection to the Kenney family, noting that in addition to the work done there by NETCO, "Jack Kenney taught me how to teach."
Tennis is making a comeback, said Gross, citing a report from the Physical Activity Council that found "despite fluctuating participation trends among traditional sports, tennis continues to lead the pack in long-term participation growth, which is up 31 percent from 2000-2012."
"I think it's the greatest sport ever," Gross said of tennis, without a hint of false modesty, adding that the most recent honors from Tennis Resorts Online further reinforce his decision to teach and to do so at WVTC.
Reflecting on his life so far, Gross said a wise man once pointed out that the best kind of job to have is one in which an outside observer cannot discern whether the person doing the work is actually working or playing. Gross said he has that kind of job.