On November 1, 2023

Looking Back: Remembering pro tennis matches in Vermont


My husband, Peter, and I are fans of both men’s and women’s professional tennis. When the US Open is over in September there is a sharp decrease in the number of matches that we can watch on TV. But after New Year’s Day they return as players get ready for the Australian Open later in January.

As we watch the various tournaments on TV throughout the year we can’t help but recall the wonderful professional matches that we saw back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s right here in Vermont.

The opportunity to attend matches began back in 1978 in Stowe. There was a men’s tournament known originally as the Stowe Open and later as the Head Classic which was played until 1983. From 1984 to 1988 there were exhibition matches at Stowe. Jimmy Connors won the event in 1978 and 1979. He must have liked playing in Stowe because he was back there for an exhibition tournament in 1985 which he won.

The opportunity to view matches at Stratton Mountain began in 1985. I won tickets to a mid-week match through a radio station contest. We both took a vacation day and headed down.

When we arrived we were directed to a parking lot and from there took a bus to the tennis courts. Our seats were up high and when we reached them I looked down on the court and realized that I was afraid of heights!  We left our seats between matches to walk around the grounds. I literally crept down the steps with my eyes focused on my husband’s back as we descended. That way I couldn’t see what was below me. Once I got back down I watched the other matches by standing at the edge of the handicapped ramp. I looked around and made a mental note of the sections where I would like to be seated next summer. Can you imagine how I would have reacted if I had been attending the US Open and was seated near the top? Those high seats look like they are in the “nose bleed section!”

The Volvo International at Stratton was a men’s ATP event. Even if you aren’t a tennis fan you will probably recognize the names of some of the players in that tournament. Among them were John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Paul Annacone and Brad Gilbert. The prize money for the winner in 1985 was $40,000. That went to John McEnroe.

The 1986 tournament saw Ivan Lendl as the winner over Boris Becker, another well known name in the tennis world. This was the year that Andre Agassi made his professional debut. With his long flowing hair he stood out from all the other players. Agassi played McEnroe in the quarter finals and lost.  McEnroe advised him to “get a hair cut.”

The 1987 tournament final was cancelled due to rain and was never played at a later date. McEnroe and Lendl were scheduled to play and both were given “runner-up status.”

In 1988 Andre Agassi claimed the title over Paul Annacone. He still had his long hair!

1989 saw Brad Gilbert claim the title over Jim Pugh. By 1990 the Volvo International moved to New Haven, Connecticut. According to my research the reason was financial differences between the tournament organizers and Stratton Mountain resort. Players had voted the event as the best tournament on the tour so no doubt they missed not going there as much as Peter and I did!

But Stratton was home to professional tennis once again in 1993 and 1994. A women’s WTA Acura Hardcourt tournament was played there. In 1993 Zina Garrison won the event and in 1994 Conchita Martinez won and received $79,500. She said she was headed to Manchester VT to shop! Other well known players who played in the 1994 Acura event were Mary Jo Fernandez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. A tournament was scheduled for 1995 but it was cancelled when Acura pulled out stating scheduling conflicts for the players.

Many of the players we saw in Stratton or Stowe are still public figures in the tennis world. John McEnroe, Brad Gilbert and Paul Annacone can be found in the broadcast booth at most of the major events. As we listen to them we can’t help but think back to the days when we saw them actively engaged as players. We were fortunate to watch them play so close to home. Those were the days!

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