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  • by Tom Eastman

1982 Volvo International - Celebrating 10 Years of Great Tennis

In Northern New Hampshire, there's a longstanding tradition of naming the craggy peaks of the White Mountains after the famous people whose deeds have made an impact of some sort during their time in this world. Presidents' names such as Washington, Adams, and Monroe delineate the landscape, much as those early leaders dominated the events which shaped the founding years of this country.

Nothing against politics, mind you, but were some new mountain range to suddenly rise out of the Granite State's rocky soil today, chances are that they'd be christened in a different vein. Rather than Mt. Nixon, Ford, Carter, or Reagan, the new peaks would quite likely bear names such as Mt. Laver and Armitraj, Alexander's Surprise, otherwise known as the Bagel Twin peaks; Clerc's Rise, or, the biggest of them all, the triple peaked rockpile known as Connors' Pinnacle. Like the Presidentials, the new range would be grouped as part of one Lofty ridge - the Volvo Champions.

Since geologists are not predicting any new seismic activity of that sort, such a prospect does appear dim. But it would be a fitting tribute indicative of the esteem Granite Staters and other New Englanders have developed over the past 10 years both for the Volvo International, and for the tennis professionals who have climbed above lesser competitors to take their place as champions of the classic Mt. Washington Valley summer sporting event.

Ten years young, the Volvo International will celebrate a "Decade of Great Tennis" this coming week, July 26th-August 2nd, when sixty-four of the world's top male tennis stars take to the red clay courts of the Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club Stadium in North Conway. Boasting one of the strongest clay court fields of any tournament on the worldwide Volvo Grand Prix circuit this summer, the 10th version of what was once referred to as a "little ol' country hit" will feature four of 10 and eight of the top 20 pros ranked on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) computer.

Included in that field of players are second-ranked Guillermo Vilas of Argentina; Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia, the twenty-three year old ace currently ranked 4th in the computer standings but considered by many to be the best in the world, and defending 1981 Volvo International Champion, Jose-Luis Clerc, also of Argentina. The trio will comprise the big three of this year's $200,000 tournament, but they will face some tough challengers. Seventh-ranked Eliot Teltscher - a semi-finalist a year ago before losing to eventual runner up Vilas - is the sole American listed among the first 10 entrants, and could turn on some of the form that allowed him to defeat both Roscoe Tanner and John McEnroe before losing in the semifinals of the prestigious Volvo masters earlier this January.

Others expected to be in the gunning for the first place prize of $32,000 and a new luxury Volvo automobile include Johan Kriek, currently ranked 11th on the ATP computer, and 12th ranked Peter McNamara of Australia. Perhaps the most exciting player in tennis Kriek is known for his quickness and tenacious competitiveness. As for McNamara, he is an unusual Down Under native, as he thrives on clay, unlike most of his countrymen who prefer the faster surfaces of grass. A premiere doubles player when teamed up with Heinz Gunthardt or countryman Paul McNamee, the craggy nosed McNamara reached only the Round of 16 in singles play in Mt. Washington Valley last summer, yet captured the doubles crown with Gunthardt over the team of Ferdi Taygan and Pavel Slozil.

Rounding out the field is 14th ranked Andres Gomez of Ecuador, the young South American star who beat Eliot Teltscher in the finals of the Italian Open this past Spring. Spain's Jose Higueras will be looking to improve upon his winning ways of 1979, when he lost to Harold Solomon in the finals of the Volvo International, and from last year when he upset first-seeded Jimmy Connors in the Round of 16 but lost to Teltscher in the quarter-finals, 6-4, 6-1. The well-liked sportsman is currently ranked 15th on the ATP computer list. Former champions Solomon, Dibbs, and John Alexander will also return. Of the three, the competitive Dibbs has fared best in the past year, reaching the quarterfinals of the 1981 Volvo before losing to eventual champion Clerc, 7-6, 6-1. The Brooklyn-born court battler is currently listed at 25th on the ATP computer.

When the 1981 Volvo International boasted an unheard of field of seven of 10 and 16 of the top 26 ATP computer ranked players, many tennis aficionados marveled at the tournament's success and popularity with spectators and players alike. One was ATP executive director Butch Buchholz, who noted that competition from other tournaments on the Volvo Grand Prix and World Championship Tennis (WCT) circuits made such a start-studded concentration of players unlikely. "Other than the French, US and Australian Opens, and Wimbledon, you'll never see all 10 of the world's top players in any one tournament," said the former player-turned ATP official while watching Guillermo Vilas out duel Eliot Teltscher in the semi-finals of the 1981 Volvo.

"The draw here at the Volvo International is the strongest of any on the clay circuit, and it reflects favorably as an equity for all the work that has been put into it by tournament officials and volunteers. This is a professionally run tournament-many on the circuit aren't," he noted adding, "Players know what to expect here, and that's why they return."

Most are returning this year, but there have been a few developments. competition from another tournament - the South Orange, New Jersey Mutual Benefit Life Open - has been a factor in the past years on the field of the Volvo International, but only to the extent that such stars as John McEnroe and Vital Geralaitis have chosen to play there rather than Mt. Washington Valley. While McEnroe has decided not to play Orange this summer in favor of resting, a new curve was thrown to Volvo International tournament director Jim Westhall in his task of recruiting the top players in the game when it was announced that a $100,000 tennis exhibition featuring Wimbledon champ Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg would be played on July 29th in Richmond, Virginia. Borg had never really been a possibility, as he is refusing to play any more Grand Prix events this year, but it was a different story with Connors, the three-time Volvo International champion and a perennial favorite among Mt. Washington Valley tennis enthusiasts. Despite Connors' decision not to appear in his eighth of 10 Volvos, however, Tournament Director Westhall looks at the situation positively.

"Jimmy Connors has paid his dues to us, and we're quite appreciative of the help he gave in the development of the Volvo International in the past," said Westhall earlier this week. "He's been very important to us, and I'd like to state for the record that he's got a standing invitation to play in any tournament I'm involved in." Westhall noted, however, that it has been the goal of the Volvo International from its inception to be something larger than any one player, popular as much for its overall ambience and traditions as it was for the high quality of play on the courts.

"The Volvo International is now one of the finest social happenings in New England as far as sporting events are concerned, and that's attributable to all of the efforts of everyone involved in its organization for the past 10 years. We've developed - and are continuing to develop - a relaxed atmosphere here enjoyable to people from all walks of life," explained the director. Noting that a successful tournament always needs a strong field, he added that the Volvo International has been able to take that notion a step further. "People ask about players, certainly, but less so every year. We've succeeded in creating a good marriage between the two V's of the Valley and the Volvo International. They complement one another, creating an overall experience."

Westhall would like to improve upon that effort whenever possible, and points to changes in marketing strategies and other upgraded amenities taken toward that goal for this year's tournament. "We have a good product, one of the best, but there's always room for improvement to make it better," he noted, emphasizing that it has been that care and commitment that has been at the core of the tournament's growth and success over the past decade.

Having Newsweek Magazine as the presenting sponsor the for the Volvo for the second consecutive year has been particularly advantageous, Westhall stated, as the national publication produced five four-color advertisements to reach its readership of six million. In addition, the magazine is providing radio advertisements in New York and Boston. When coupled with various other advertising campaigns, information garnered from spectator surveys at last year's Volvo by the University of New Hampshire Whittemore School of Business & Economics, and a general sophistication in all areas of its operation, it is not surprising to learn that ticket sales for the 1982 Volvo International are running 10-to-12 days ahead of where they stood at the same time last year when a record of 61,130 was set. Provided that the weather holds, Westhall is cautiously confident that a new mark will be set this year.

It's been a long path from the Volvo International's beginnings as a $25,000 in-house affair at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods in 1973, and even further still from the four-man, $5,000 exhibition which was its precursor at the Hotel in 1970. At the reins since 1971, Jim Westhall notes that while he is pleased with and not at all surprised by the success and growth achieved to date, he is still as "hungry" for greater strides as ever.

"My goal is to have standing room only for all the matches, something which we'd have if we brought in a McEnroe or Borg, and I think we'll see that in a few years. In the meantime," he noted, "we've got to continue to get the word out that we have bigger tennis crowds than anywhere else except the US Open in this country, that we are special with such class events as the Portland Symphony Orchestra Concert in the Park, and that we truly have a quality sporting event here in the mountains."

Once those tasks are accomplished, Westhall said that the tournament will have crossed a thin yet important line in the tennis world. "After we reach that point, we'll see all the players wanting to be part of what we have, whether they're tired or not. But we've got to do some work yet and keep on fine-tuning the smooth machine that we now have."

It's a lofty ambition, as attainable as any White Mountain peak with some effort. The summit is already within sight.


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