To his friends and family, Andrew Chmura was the one with the tennis connections. As a junior player from New England, he’d been ranked Number One in New England. He played at Notre Dame and then, for a time, as a pro.
When he became director of tennis at Topnotch, a top-ranked tennis resort in Stowe, Vt., clients had lots of questions. How could they get tickets to Wimbledon? Where should they stay in New York while attending the US Open? What are some can’t-miss attractions in Melbourne during the Australian Open?
It didn’t take long for Chmura to realize there might be a business opportunity in his own experience with tennis travel. “I thought, gosh, I know all those answers,” he says.
Seventeen years after taking his first eight clients to the Australian Open, he’s headed back to Melbourne this month for the first of the year’s four majors, with four colleagues (including his wife, Steph) and about 150 guests in tow. With his company, the aptly named Grand Slam Tennis Tours, Chmura and his staff of 10 now bring an average of 2,000 clients each year to the majors and other prestigious tournaments, such as the Miami Open and the Masters tourney in Monte Carlo.
There are plenty of package tour companies that specialize in sporting events, sending customers to the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and other high-profile attractions. Grand Slam Tennis is one of the few of its kind that focus solely on tennis.
To gain an advantage over competitors (such as Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours in San Diego and Arizona-based Championship Tennis Tours), Grand Slam offers perks including city tours, courtside seating and meet-and-greet dinners. At the Australian Open, which runs through Jan. 29, clients can take some instruction on their own games at the exclusive Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, and they’ll have the opportunity to meet legends such as Rod Laver and Fred Stolle.
“Our goal is to over-deliver,” says Chmura.
To that end, the company recently added an unusual wrinkle. About a year ago Chmura partnered with player agent Sam Duvall to form Topnotch Management, a boutique agency representing about a dozen professional tennis players. Grand Slam now offers fans elbow-rubbing opportunities with the agency’s players. One “can’t buy” experience, according to Chmura, is the chance to return the 140-mph-and-up serves of two of Topnotch’s premiere talents, 6-foot-10-inch John Isner and a 19-year-old newcomer named Reilly Opelka, who is 6-foot-11.
Sandra Blaeser of North Andover has been traveling with Grand Slam since Chmura bought the company from an ad in the back of a tennis magazine in 2000. She goes to the US Open every year with one of her daughters, Carolyn Huber of Charlestown, and they’ve also attended the Miami Open, the Italian Open, and the Masters event in Indian Wells, Calif. Unlike many of Grand Slam’s clients, Blaeser and her daughter don’t participate in the company’s clinics. They just love to watch the sport.
At the US Open, they’ll arrive around 11 a.m. and sometimes stay until 11:30 at night. “We’re hardcore,” Blaeser says.
She and her husband have six children and 13 grandchildren. It’s a family tradition to watch the tennis majors together.
They each have their favorites, she says. She was “psyched” when Boris Becker began coaching Novak Djokovic, “and I loved Pete Sampras from Day One.”
Chmura, who grew up in Pittsfield, vividly remembers what it was like marveling at the best in the world when he was competing on the professional circuit. With the relationships he’s built over the years, he’ll have travelers sitting in front-row seats in Melbourne.
“We’ve had clients get the champion’s racket or high-fives from [Roger] Federer,” he says.
Customers sometimes urge him to expand into package tours for golf or other sports, he says, and he’s been approached more than once about merging or selling his business. For now, though, he likes the way the ball is bouncing.
“We’re having fun,” he says. “We’re playing tennis, traveling, and making a little money. I kind of like the roll we’re on.”E-mail James Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.