STOWE — The last time Vermont was host to a major professional tennis tournament was a decade ago, in 2007. It was the Fed Cup semifinals and big stars like Venus Williams, Nadia Petrova and Elena Vesnina drew crowds of 4,500 for both days of the tournament at Topnotch Resort.
The man behind that event was Stowe resident and former tennis pro Andrew Chmura, who is now the president of Grand Slam Tennis Tours, a boutique tourism company in Stowe that specializes in travel to major tennis events around the world, including the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Chmura and his team at GSTT are bringing pro tennis back to Stowe this Aug. 22-24 with the Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic, but this time GSTT wants to make it an ongoing annual event, elaborate on it and bill it as something like a Stowe tennis week — set the week before the US Open in New York City.
“We proved with the Fed Cup that we can host a big tournament and do it well, and we’re eager to do it again,” Chmura said in a recent interview. “I’m also excited about what the tournament could mean for the future of Stowe and the potential it has to grow and solidify itself into the tennis calendar. We want this to become an event the best pro players in the world want to come to a week ahead of the US Open… It could be a pretty cool contrast between the intimacy and outdoor space of Vermont, playing in spectacular scenery for a week of tennis and events, and then head to the city for the big show.”
This year’s tennis tournament will feature seven ranked pro men players, including Albert Ramos-Viñolas (ranked 22nd), teen sensation Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Haas (formerly ranked 2nd), NextGen player Reilly Opelka, Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, No. 2 Canadian Vasek Pospisil, and American NextGen player Jared Donaldson.
A 2,500-seat temporary stadium is being built for the tournament adjacent to the Stowe Performing Arts Center at Stowe Mountain Lodge at Spruce Peak with many of the seats looking directly at Mount Mansfield.
“I’ve been to a lot of tennis tournaments all around the world, and I can tell you this will be one of the most spectacular and beautiful backdrops of any tournament in the world,” Chmura said. “But we’re also excited about all the other things the resort and the town have to offer: the zip line, the tree-top course, great swimming holes just down the road and the luxurious Stowe Mountain Lodge. It’s a great package and I think we’ll be able to provide a really wonderful experience.”
Stowe had been host to international tennis tournaments back in the 1970s when the Head Classic drew the likes of Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and other top tennis players in the world. “You talk about Stowe to people who are now coaches and who have played here, and it’s like some of their fondest memories as professional tennis players,” Chmura says.
Chmura grew up in Pittsfield, Mass., where he was a nationally ranked junior player, who later went on to play tennis at Notre Dame and on the professional circuit before settling in Vermont in 1999. Chmura first came to Middlebury where he coached the men’s tennis team for a year at Middlebury College and had a small role in developing the Middlebury Indoor Tennis facility, and then moved to Stowe where he became the tennis pro at Topnotch Resort for several years. Along the way he started conducting small trips to tennis events around the world, and gradually formed the Grand Slam Tennis Tours business about two decades ago. He also serves on the board of the USTA New England.
In 2016, Chmura and GSTT partnered with Topnotch Management, one of the leading player representation agencies in the tennis industry. But besides creating tours specific to tennis, hosting a big event like the upcoming men’s tournament and making it an event worthy of drawing big tennis stars every year has its own unique set of challenges and rewards. We talked to Chmura about a few of those challenges and how he hopes the tournament will evolve:
Q: After being ranked as a junior player, and playing at Notre Dame, how long did you play as a professional and when did you settle down in Stowe?
Chmura: I played for about a year and a half, mainly in Europe, African and throughout U.S. I knew early on I wasn’t big enough or good enough to compete at that level, but I loved tennis and it was what I knew about, so I started teaching tennis at Topnotch around 2000, and I was already putting together tennis tours for some of my clients and friends, then eventually saw the basis for a business there and founded Grand Slam Tennis Tours.
I’m also a skier, and while I grew up in Massachusetts, I came here a lot as a kid vacationing and attended Killington Mountain School in the eighth grade… Since those early years I always knew Vermont was where I wanted to live.
Q: Describe the venue and the stadium of the Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic.
Chmura: “We’ll have 2,500 seats in the stadium and not a bad seat in the house. Compared to the 26,000 seats at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, every seat in our stadium will feel intimate. All of our seats will be the equivalent to the courtside seats at the US Open, which sell for $400 to $5,000. We’re selling our tickets at three levels: $45, $75 and $1,000 VIP seats, which come with a party the night before the tournament, a chance to meet the players and other benefits, in addition to the best seats in the house.”
Q: How can viewers follow the match-ups to know who’s playing the next day?
Chmura: There’ll be a draw ceremony the day before the tournament begins, and then every day you’ll see six out of the seven players perform in three matches.
Q: If this were my first pro-tennis tournament to see, what will surprise me?
Chmura: First, the tennis is so fast. One of the things a lot of folks will get from being courtside is just how physical tennis is and has become. These athletes train year around, and the physicality of the sport is much greater than it used to be. The athletic ability of these guys is just mind-boggling… As a game, it’s the same strategy as many of us play, but at a very different speed and with much greater power.
As an athlete, it’s also a super mental. Tennis is a game of accountability where the mistakes you make are all yours, and the good shots you make are yours too. But you have to stay positive and not let the missed shots get you down.
As a spectacular, one of the coolest things is when you’re sitting that close to the action you can feel the dynamics of the match change. It’s like being ringside at a boxing match. You can feel the energy, the mood swings that happen after a good shot or a missed hit… Matches can be an emotional roller coaster, and watching that as a spectator is something you don’t get when watching a match on television.
Q: Besides the beauty of the area and facilities at Stowe Mountain Lodge, is there another characteristic that makes Stowe a good place to host a tennis tournament?
Chmura: The community is ripe with athletic active people that love sport. And it’s a bit different than the mainstream in that Vermont folks love their mountain biking, skiing, climbing, etc. And tennis falls in that category of an individual sport that you can play forever and actually improve as you age. The proof is in the hundreds of miles of single track found in Stowe, the best ski mountain in the East, and the 350-plus tennis courts in Stowe. That is about one tennis court for every 12 people! It’s a tennis town and deserving of a big tennis tournament each year.
Q: You mentioned that tennis is bigger internationally than in the U.S. Any idea why?
Chmura: Generally, I think there is a bit of saturation in the sports market in the U.S. With baseball, basketball and football dominating the sports landscape, its tough for tennis to really break through. There is just so much time to watch sports… However, internationally, tennis (in Europe and South America) is the second most popular sport to soccer. In towns like Stowe and Middlebury, with its incredible indoor tennis facility (MIT), and other communities in Vermont that embrace the sport, tennis takes a much bigger stage, as do sports like skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and climbing. I think that’s why you see a pretty active and healthy older community because it’s hard to play football when you’re over 40 (except for Tom Brady), but it feels good to peddle the bike path or skin the mountain. And it definitely feels good to hit a topspin forehand.
Q: Recalling your years in junior nationals, what advice would you give aspiring, young tennis players in high school who love the sport but are not sure whether they want to pursue it at a higher level?
Chmura: There are many doors that open and levels of success that they one can achieve by sticking with tennis. Above all, it is such an accountable sport. One of the hardest things to do as a tennis player is to take the errors and winners and accept them mentally the same way. You’re going to hit great shots and you’re going to flub some up. Allowing yourself to stay even, mentally, is a difficult thing on the court and in life. I think that is the most important thing I have taken from my years on the court. Also tennis opens doors, socially and otherwise. It’s a great way to meet new people, and it’s a skill you will have for a lifetime.
Q: If fans can’t make the event live, will it be televised and how can it be seen?
A: We will be streaming it live on Facebook, and a production crew that works with the tennis channel will be here to record it, though we have not finalized when it might run. We’ll put that information up on our website, protennisstowe.com as soon as we know it.
What: Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic, pro men’s tennis tournament
When: Aug. 22-24, 2017
Where: Stowe Mountain Lodge resort
Cost per ticket: $45, $75 and VIP tickets.
More info at stowetennis.com