Serious Tennis Players Get Expert Tutelage at Saddlebrook

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Reed Travel Features

WESLEY CHAPEL -- The late Harry Hopman was the winningest captain in Davis Cup history, capturing tennis' premier team competition for his native Australia 16 times during his 21-year tenure.

A strict disciplinarian who demanded total commitment from his players, Hopman was dubbed the "greatest tennis coach ever" by Tennis magazine.

The Australian teams he captained included such tennis legends as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Tony Roche.

Hopman moved to Florida in 1976 and opened Hopman International Tennis, a training facility where touring professionals could hone their skills and up-and-coming juniors could prepare for the rigors of the tour.

In 1986 Hopman moved his operation to the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., a full-service resort located about 33 miles north of Tampa.

A United States Tennis Association National Training Center, Saddlebrook's tennis program is now run by camp director Howard Moore and director of coaching Tommy Thompson. They oversee a staff of approximately 40 teaching pros trained in Hopman's methods.

The resort is home to the prestigious Saddlebrook Academy, a fully accredited college preparatory school for seventh to 12th graders from around the world. Its students take part in a unique program that combines five hours of classroom study with four-and-a-half hours of daily tennis and fitness instruction.

But hackers can take heart: Saddlebrook offers a tennis camp with packages geared to intermediate and advanced recreational players looking to sharpen their games.

The camp's most popular program is the six-night Hopman Week (offered year- round), priced from $852 per person, double, through April 26. An optional meal plan costs $55 per person, daily.

Prices drop after April, with rates starting at $690 per person, double.

Players looking for a quick tune-up can take advantage of a two-day/Saturday night package priced from $247 per person, double.

For the price, campers stay in privately owned, deluxe one- and two-bedroom guest rooms with a kitchen, dining room and living room.

They also have access to two 18-hole golf courses designed and built by Arnold Palmer (Saddlebrook also is home to the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy).

Every program includes a video analysis and fresh fruit and refreshment breaks.

Rack rates are from $215 per night, single or double, through late April.

A big selling point at Saddlebrook is the number of hours that players spend on the court and the ratio of students to instructors.

Players are grouped by ability and stay with the same pro for the week, with no more than four players to a teaching pro.

Players take part in five hours of hard-hitting, imaginative drills a day designed to make them react quickly to the ball.

Because of the intensive nature of the program, the Saddlebrook camp is best suited for players who are in good shape and who are willing to push themselves.

Saddlebrook's instructors expect participants to know their strokes and will work to hone their skills instead of completely revamping their style of play.

Another of Saddlebrook's selling points is that the pros who work with the Academy students also work with the recreational players.

Indeed, Saddlebrook's pros put campers through many of the same drills that the Academy players go through.

The sessions run from 8:20 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Each session starts with about 10 minutes of stretching and a jog around the court complex, then moves on to the drills.

Not surprisingly, Saddlebrook's tennis facilities are top-notch, with 45 courts representing every Grand Slam surface: hard courts (U.S. and Australian opens), red clay (French Open) and grass (Wimbledon), although the majority of court time is spent on the complex's 31 Har-Tru (green clay) courts.

The courts are in immaculate condition and are swept between the morning and afternoon sessions.

Off court, Saddlebrook lives up to its reputation as a full-service resort.

In addition to the two golf courses, Saddlebrook features a "sports village" anchored by a 3,300-square-foot, glass-enclosed fitness center with the latest cardiovascular machines, strength training equipment and free weights.

Near the fitness center is a regulation basketball court, two grass volleyball courts, a softball field and a swimming pool with whirlpool.

Back at the hotel's center, there is a 270-foot-long "superpool" surrounded by sundecks and whirlpools, and a new spa with the requisite massage therapies and body treatments -- a real treat after a day of hard tennis.

There are also extensive jogging and bicycle trails.

A popular spot for corporate meetings and retreats, Saddlebrook also boasts some 60,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

To book, call (800) 729-8383.

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