I’m gasping, gulping in deep breaths of air filled with the scent of pine trees and bougainvillea, and desperately trying to return a series of balls as part of a ‘death drill’ that I’m assured will improve my balance and footwork.
While a few balls fall to rest haphazardly among the landscaped gardens of nearby villas, most lie scattered in and around the court. Sweat is pouring down my face but I feel somewhat elated, like an athlete who’s just accomplished a record-breaking performance. I’ve just learnt how to execute a double-handed backhand and, after not playing tennis for 20 years, I can actually see some improvement in just two days.
My timing is getting better, my forehand is more consistent, my serves are actually landing where they should and my racket makes that lovely ‘thwack’ noise that reverberates around the court.
A few birds are watching the action; all that’s missing is the applause.
Annabel Croft Tennis Academy (ACTA) has several tennis centres around the world in attractive locations from Cyprus to the Caribbean but, as I’ve only time for a short weekend retreat, Pine Cliffs resort in the Algarve is the most enticing option. The resort — with plush villas, townhouses, luxury suites and restaurants scattered around a nine-hole golf course — sits on a dramatic clifftop overlooking the seemingly endless Falesia beach, which stretches all the way to Vilamoura.
While several excellent coaches are based here year-round, if you time it right you could book yourself onto one of several Tennis MasterClass holidays led by Andy Murray’s former coach and ex-GB Davis Cup star, Miles Maclagan.
While most who sign up are intermediate players, Miles also takes on novices like me. He offers four hours of tuition daily in two-hour sessions, some of which are on superb clay courts.
“I get a huge buzz from seeing people improve,” says Miles. “People often say to me ‘What’s your best coaching memory?’ and they expect me to say coaching some top player such as Murray, but actually it’s really rewarding teaching club players as it’s very easy to correct small things they’re doing wrong and make a huge difference.”
Intermediate tennis player Eric Forcythe-Reid, aged 50, signed up in an instant. “I’m a member of David Lloyd and West Side [Lawn Tennis Club] in Wimbledon and I’ve done a lot of tennis holidays in the past at La Manga and Val de Lobo, but nothing compares to this. This is the best coaching I’ve ever had. To have the opportunity to be intensively coached in such a small group under an ex-tour coach with that level of knowledge and first-hand experience… You simply don’t get that on other breaks.”
Eric was impressed with the daily routine, which began at 10am. Miles starts off with stretches and warm-ups before moving onto drills designed to improve players’ basic movements, skills and angles, and ends with essential work on the serve.
Miles smiles, saying, “guests love the fact that I teach them the exact same drills that top players would do. I just change it according to their ability, speeding it up for those who can handle doing it under more pressure.” Between 11am and 4pm, players get time off court to enjoy a leisurely lunch, stroll to the beach or relax by the pool. The break allows them time to recover from the morning session and to return feeling refreshed.
The afternoon sessions concentrate on developing a tactical game, with tuition for both singles and doubles. Miles focuses on teaching players how to read the game and how to react quickly to different situations.
All participants are encouraged to play a round-robin tournament or match against other guests, to help assess their performance and reveal their strengths and weaknesses.
“Miles is super chilled and a great communicator,” says Eric. “He doesn’t overload you with technical talk, but demonstrates things and offers a tailored approach to every individual. I thought I was an old dog who couldn’t learn new tricks but Miles proved that was wrong.”
There’s always plenty of banter over lunch, with Miles sharing his stories from the locker room. So, after a few glasses of excellent Portuguese wine from the trendy Beach Club by Olivier restaurant, do guests ever challenge Miles on the court?
“You’ll always get the odd person who wants to run around and try and beat the pro,” says Miles, who, incidentally, still occasionally “knocks a ball around” with players such as Andy Murray and James Ward.
Eric laughs and admits he has risen to the challenge. “Yes. We played a few rallies, which was good fun — but I’d never win, even with Miles not playing to his full capacity. He may be easygoing but it’s very hard to forget who he is when he hits a ball!”
Looking at the number of balls I’ve hit into the net, I think I need a bit more practice. Let the death drills begin.
How to do it
Annabel Croft Tennis Holidays offers three- or four-night Miles Maclagan MasterClass tennis trips at the five-star Pine Cliffs Resort Sheratan Algarve Hotel from £750 per person. This includes accommodation on a half-board basis, a three-day programme of coaching clinics with Miles at the resort’s Annabel Croft Tennis Academy, welcome drinks reception, initial tennis assessments, video analysis of key situations and strokes, and personalised follow-on coaching advice for players to take home.
Published in the December 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)