One on One with Cliff Drysdale
The Tennis Legend Talks His Love For San Diego, 2016 Tournament Predictions, and Who US Men’s Tennis Needs Now (Hint: It’s Taylor Fritz) by Deanna Murphy
While so many athletes and celebrities put nothing more than their names on programs and merchandise they endorse, Cliff Drysdale has put his life into tennis. As a player, Drysdale was a champion (he’s got 35 singles and 24 doubles titles), but his contribution to the game has been much more far-reaching than just racking up trophies. He was founding President of the Association of Tennis Players (ATP), the tour that includes all four Grand Slam Tournaments: the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the US Open. He’s a world-class tennis commentator. And the resort tennis management company that bears his name now operates in 28 resorts nationwide, including the Omni La Costa Resort, where Drysdale calls home for a few months out of the year (he shares his time with his permanent home in Florida). While here, he can regularly be found strolling the property with his long-haired dachshunds, Romeo and Maximus, and despite his tall stature, his friendly, unassuming demeanor allows the Tennis Hall of Fame-er to easily roam the resort virtually unrecognized (though his South African lilt is an instant giveaway), or visit his favorite local haunts, including Fish 101 in Leucadia and Sake House in Encinitas.
Already known as a spectacular tennis destination for vacationers and locals, with the addition of Cliff Drysdale Tennis, La Costa’s program inherited a tennis legend and a true fan of the game who enjoys watching and helping the recreational player as much as the pros. Says Drysdale, “There is as much pleasure for me watching you improve your forehand as there is in watching Novak Djokovic change his grip slightly and become the best player in the world on his serve.” He adds, “I don’t spend that much time on the court, honestly, but when I do, and I see somebody hitting with one of our pros, I am compelled to walk on the court and say, ‘I just want you to try something because this is going to make a huge difference in your game.’ A little bit of the teacher is in my blood.”
When asked how Cliff Drysdale Tennis — and Drysdale himself — came to La Costa, Drysdale cites multiple reasons. “I was very excited about this particular property because I told [Omni] that if we signed up, I’d spend a lot of time here personally because of my connection with San Diego,” he says, and he’s following through on his word. “We spent three months here this year. My wife is from this area and wanted to come back, so we’re going to spend time here every summer.” His connection began while playing in celebrity events in the ’60s and ’70s. “This was the start of the La Costa Resort being an iconic tennis destination,” he explains — and it was this history that compelled him to orchestrate the return of World Team Tennis (WTT) to La Costa in July 2015. Not unlike many of us, the Southern California climate also holds obvious allure. “To know San Diego is to love San Diego for the weather,” he says. “I like every day perfect, which is what it seems to be here in San Diego, so that’s the reason I’m here now.”
The casual local tennis player who might not recognize Drysdale on La Costa’s grounds is far more likely to recognize him for his work in the booth for ESPN, where Drysdale has worked as a tennis commentator since the network’s launch in 1979. “I’m really enjoying it as much as I ever have,” he says, though at 74, he’s cutting back on the tournaments he covers. “I would travel to Outer Mongolia in the early days because I wanted to be on the road, but I’m not that way anymore. In fact, next year I’m just doing the three events — the Australian, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.” He cites Wimbledon as his favorite tournament to cover, not for its hallowed halls as one might expect, but for its logistics, with a conveniently walk-able Wimbledon Village, great dining options, and quick access to his courtside post.
When asked if he had any predictions for the 2016 majors, he says, “Predictions are always the same as long as Novak Djokovic is in the field. I’m always predicting that he and Serena Williams are going to win, so those are really easy.” What does he think of our hometown pro, Taylor Fritz, joining the fray? “There’s no doubt that he’s got a good future in professional tennis. It’s not only good for locals, but it’s good for us nationally in men’s tennis. The women have got Serena and Venus and a bunch of youngsters coming up as well, but not the men — we really need someone like [Fritz] to step up and become a top 10 player or even better.”
Watch for Drysdale as he assumes his post once again at the Australian Open, beginning January 18.