Professional tennis has never been better, according to somebody who should know – Mats Wilander, the former No. 1 player in the world. But these days Wilander is more concerned with amateur tennis, which is why he’ll be in Delaware in a couple of weeks.
Wilander – the winner of 33 professional tournaments, including seven Grand Slam titles – will visit the First State for two events on May 4. The first is a pair of clinics he’ll run along with former Naval Academy All-American Cameron Lickle at DuPont Country Club. The other is a fundraiser for the Rodney Street Tennis and Tutoring Authority (RSTTA) at Wilmington Country Club.
And even though Wilander only gets paid for the first event, both are labors of love for the 47-year-old Swede who now lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, and travels to his various functions in a Winnebago. Wilander said he enjoys working with and for kids because he knows they are the future of tennis. And he loves the idea of the RSTTA, which brings the game to inner-city kids who otherwise might never pick up a racket.
“We’re not a country club company where only the rich play. We go everywhere,’’ Wilander said in a conference call with Delaware Valley media, a call he made while driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in California on his way to play a round a golf at Pebble Beach.
Hey, you become No. 1 in the world at something and you can play at Pebble Beach, too.
“Anytime we can get kids involved, like the Rodney Street group, than everybody is a winner,’’ Wilander said. “Tennis needs to grow.’’
Wilander was especially impressed that the RSTTA emphasizes hard work in the classroom as well as on the court. That’s why he was more than happy to be the featured guest at its fundraiser, which in the past has hosted tennis stars-turned-broadcasters Patrick McEnroe and Mary Carillo.
“When you hear that kids are involved and it helps them with their academics after school, it’s close to your heart,’’ Wilander said. “And a lot of inner-city kids don’t have the support structure at home. So, it’s very easy when kids are involved.’’
Wilander — who was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1988 and inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002 — also takes a hands-on approach with his series of clinics, which are conducted under the business name “Wilander on Wheels” (WOW). His WOW clinics at DuPont CC on May 4 are from 3-4:30 p.m. and 4:45-6:15 p.m. They’re limited to the first 16 entrants – eight per session – and cost $300 per session.
Wilander got the idea for WOW after conducting tennis camps in Vermont. It was out of the way and hard to reach and expensive to travel to and he decided that it would be easier to bring the camp to the people, rather than the people to the camp. So he teamed with Lickle – who served five years in the Navy as a nuclear engineer – got the Winnebago, loaded up their gear and hit the road.
They don’t drive the same Winnebago everywhere, of course. Wilander flies – first class, we hope – to the region where he’ll be giving clinics and rents the van. But he does get to see a lot more of the country than he did when he was a jet-setting star of the men’s tour and he gets to meet the fans who only saw him on television before.
For more information on the two events, contact the Du Pont CC tennis pro shop at (302) 421-2012 or the RSTTA at rodneystreettennis.org.
Contact Kevin Noonan at [email protected]