In the quiet Vermont mountains, just over a five-hour drive from New York City and the U.S. Open’s home in Flushing Meadows, the town of Stowe—population 4,300—is readying for an event that it hopes will become a new pre-Open tradition for years to come.
It’s the Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic, and it’d like to be the Kooyong or The Boodles of the year’s final Grand Slam.
“I think a lot of the players on tour want a relaxed setting to craft their games the week before the Open,” said Sam Gaines, the President of Spruce Peak at Stowe, the resort that is hosting the exhibition. “There is certainly a niche there. This is a great venue for sponsors and fans that want the tennis to be accessible. It’s a casual environment.”
Aside from the ATP World Tour stop in Winston-Salem, the week before the U.S. Open has been surprisingly void of any exhibition events as players instead fill their calendars with sponsor appearances in and around New York City.
But the tour event in North Carolina has just 48 main-draw spots, meaning more than 50 players are left without a competitive outlet the week prior to the Open, which actually turns into two weeks—if not more—if players had lost in qualifying or early in the week at the Masters 1000 stop in Cincinnati.
“It’s always great to have the opportunity to play a few matches before a Grand Slam event,” said Tommy Haas, who is playing in Stowe but did not get a requested wild card into the U.S. Open.
The veteran, at 39, has been the tournament director in Indian Wells for the last year while winding down his singles career, which has spanned over 20 years.
“At an ATP event—if you play well—you get points and prize money and confidence, but [an exhibition] is where you get to play a guaranteed couple of matches, get some practice and face some very good players,” Haas said in a phone interview. “You don’t have to worry about too much if you win or lose. Instead, you can just worry about getting ready for the Open.”