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  • by Tom Eastman

Ten Years of Great Tennis

The Volvo Celebrates a Winning Tradition

In the past ten years, the Volvo International Tennis Tournament has grown from a "little country hit" to one of the premier tournaments on the world-wide Volvo Grand Prix of professional tennis. In recognition of that steady achievement, the tournament is being billed this year as the Perfect 10 Years of Volvo, boasting a proud and envied tradition of great tennis over the past decade.

The eight-day long tournament has been scheduled to take place on the red clay courts of the Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club Stadium in Mt. Washington Valley, July 26-August 2, showcasing 64 of the world's best male tennis players. At stake in the classic sporting event's Monday afternoon showdown will be a check for $32,000 and a new luxury Volvo sedan.

Originally a $25,000 event when it was first held at the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods in 1972, the Volvo International has - to borrow a cigarette brand's advertising logo - come a long way. A look at the growth in sponsorship money from that initial figure of $25,000 to its current total of $250,000 ($200,000 on-site prize money, $40,000 for players bonus pool, $10,000 for administration fees) amply illustrated one aspect of the tournament's success.

Volvo International Tournament Director Jim Westhall commented recently that he would not be surprised if sponsorship monies total $300,000 by 1983. That figure compares dramatically with the $5,000 budgeted for the Volvo's precursor, a four-man exhibit held at the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods in 1971. "I can remember sitting through three days of rain with Rod Laver at Bretton Woods in 1971, somewhat incredulously telling each other that the tournament's prize money should be raised to $25,000 for the next year," said Westhall. "We met that goal and we've been growing ever since."

Moved to North Conway's newly constructed Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club Stadium in 1975 from Bretton Woods, the tournament has flourished in its Mt. Washington Valley setting. As Westhall is perennially quick to note, however, the success which the tournament has enjoyed should never be something to be taken lightly. Addressing the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce membership on May 18th this year, the tournament director emphasized the need for further cooperation between the tournament, its sponsors, and the core of volunteers which accounted for the tournament's past accomplishments and its current high status in the tennis world.

"We have created one of the best tournaments in the world," said Westhall, "but like a well handle that you have to keep pumping to prevent the water from slipping back into the well, we've got to keep pumping up the Volvo International to insure its continued success." The tournament director noted that there is always competition from other tournaments, and the Volvo International must continue to work hard to retain its current preeminence. "The tournament and Mt. Washington Valley need one another, and to keep at it 365 days a year. The Volvo is so big now, and it has captured the imagination of people throughout the country and the tennis world. "But," Westhall said, "we can't stop and say we've made it - if you do that, you're giving yourself a false sense of security."

The tournament director then proceeded to tell of the steps taken to date which will help insure the favorable prospects for this year's 10th Volvo International and tourism in Mt. Washington Valley. The Cable TV-USA network will once again film the semi-finals and finals as they did last year, airing the segments in a delayed broadcast the evening of Monday, August 2nd. The network, which only last year had a viewing audience of 7.5 million, now puts that total at 14 million across the United States.

Other promotional assets garnered by the tournament of benefit both to itself and Mt. Washington Valley include the substantial media coverage aired on television stations during the eight-day long tournament. Film footage taken by crews hired by the tournament last year resulted in 42 minutes of prime-time coverage aired on local and network stations across the country. Westhall stated that television coverage in the Boston market alone amounted to $66,000 worth of free promotion for the tournament and the Valley.

Having Newsweek magazine as a presenting sponsor of the tournament also represents something of a coupe for the Volvo and the Valley, according to Westhall. In addition to helping with the promotion of the event through subscription mailings of ticket order forms to Newsweek readers, the magazine will also produce five four-color advertisements which will stress both the tournament and the Valley. Westhall stated that the value of that promotion is $75,000. Other promotional media coverage will be provided by Profiles Magazine in an 18-page inset covering the first 10 years of the Volvo. The insert will be carried in the Boston Globe with a circulation of 100,000 readers.

World Tennis Magazine rated the 1981 Volvo semi-final match between Czechoslovakia's Ivan Lendl and eventual champion Jose-Luis Clerc of Argentina as the third best in the world last year, just behind the Wimbledon matches between Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, and Borg and McEnroe. Since Wimbledon's playing surface is grass, Westhall proudly noted that the Volvo match was therefore rated the best clay tournament encounter in the world. To commemorate that great afternoon in Volvo history, the tournament commissioned artist Bill Visser of Center Sandwich, N.H., to depict Lendl and Clerc at match-point. World Tennis had already agreed to publish a copy of the painting in an upcoming edition, thus giving the tournament and the Valley even greater promotional coverage. In addition, copies of the 2,000-character watercolor painting will be published in a signed limited edition for sale to Chamber businesses as a year-round reminder of the tournament. The posters will be available to the general public as well.

Whether audiences will be given an opportunity to see Lendl and Clerc compete against one another at the 1982 Volvo International remains to be seen, as Clerc has not yet announced his plans for the summer. Although the political situation in Argentina over the Falklands is not yet a factor affecting Clerc's decision, Tournament Director Jim Westhall says that it is not something which he can rule out. "We can't say for sure at this point, certainly, but we do feel that Clerc will be back to defend his title at the Volvo this year," said Westhall. Fellow countryman Guillermo Vilas - a finalist at the 1981 Volvo International - has already announced his plans to enter the field in the 1982 Volvo.

Vilas has been on a hot streak so far this year, emerging unscathed for nearly five months of Volvo Grand Prix action. The 30-year-old former French and US Open champion has not lost a match in five Volvo tournaments in 1982, a string which encompasses 25 matches and two victories each over Lendl and perennial Volvo International favorite and three-time champion Jimmy Connors. Vilas currently ranks second on the Volvo Grand Prix and fourth on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) computer. A clay court specialist - some say the best of all time - Vilas will be a strong contender to capture this year's Volvo.

Expected to give Vilas more than a little trouble in that pursuit is Ivan Lendl, the 22-year-old Czechoslovakian who currently is unquestionably the best tennis player in the world. Although the ATP computer has Lendl placed at No.2 in the world, he has been the most consistent performer in the game over the past seven months. In that period, he has not only won more than $1.6 million in prize money, but he has also etched his name into the record books. Since bowing in the fourth round of last year's US Open, he has played in 18 tournaments, reaching the finals in all 18 and winning 89 of 92 matches. Included among the 15 tournament titles he has won to date are the prestigious Volvo Masters and the Trevira Cup in Frankfurt, West Germany. A determined perfectionist, Lendl will be making his second appearance at Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club Stadium for the 1982 Volvo International.

Australian Peter McNamara, the current hope of that country's tennis scene, has also announced his intention to return to play in the mountains of New Hampshire this summer in the 1982 Volvo. McNamara had a good year in 1981, beginning the year ranked No. 29 on the ATP computer but cracking the top 10 by mid-summer to become the first Australian to do so in seven years. In reaching that pinnacle, he defeated the likes of Jimmy Connors to win the German Open, reached the quarter-finals at the Italian Open, and fell to Bjorn Borg in the quarters at Wimbledon.

Tournament Director Jim Westhall is confident that last year's impressive Volvo field will be equaled this year, if not surpassed. Noting that the 1981 Volvo boasted 7 of 10, and 13 of 16 of the world's top ranked tennis players - the best of any clay tournament on the summer circuit - he said that the popularity of the tournament is as strong as ever with the players. "The Volvo International is a total experience that is fun both for the players and spectators alike. "They enjoy coming here to the Mt. Washington Valley, and I'm sure we'll see a strong field once again when tournament play begins on July 26th," said the tournament director.

When asked about 1975, '76 and '80 Volvo Champion Jimmy Connors' plans, Westhall said that it is not yet certain what the tennis greats intentions are concerning this year's tournament. Connors is now under the management of Mark McCormack of International Management, an agent who also happens to be the manager of Longwood tournament held six days prior to the Volvo International. Connors remains a strong possibility for the Volvo International, however.

"We look at the tournament as being bigger than any one player," said Westhall responding to the question over Connors, always one of the more popular players among Volvo spectators. "There are always other tournaments which will give you competition - that's why we always have to do our best to present the best tournament we can. The players will return as long as you do present a quality event, and the same goes for the spectators. The Volvo International is a classic sporting event, and while you need a strong field, everything concerning the tournament is of equal importance. It's a fun experience."

As for the tournament's long-term future, Westhall laughed and said that he was happy, but not surprised, to reach the 10-year mark. "Ten years is a milestone of sorts, and we have come a long way. We've always felt that we'd be here as long as we did everything right with perhaps a little luck, and that's been the case," he said. "We've had tremendous cooperation from Volvo of America, the Mt. Washington Chamber of Commerce, and all of the sponsors and volunteers who've made this a success. Now," he added, "we have to make sure that we carry on with that work, so that we can celebrate A Great Thirty Years of Volvo 20 years from now. We can do it if we work at it."


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