Tennis in Halkidiki, Greece


Published in The Sunday Telegraph 2009

The tennis holiday was Casilda’s idea. I hadn’t seen her play but she has the look of someone who is rather good at ball games. I, according to my brother, have a family gene that makes hitting a ball a challenge. So, on the understanding that we would have a beach holiday “with tennis” as opposed to a “tennis holiday”, I agreed. We synchronised our diaries and began looking for a suitable venue.

There were several options – Forte Village in Sardinia and La Manga Club in Spain both fitted the bill – then we came across the Sani Resort, about an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki. Hugging a curve of pristine white sand, the resort is made up of four hotels and a marina with a shopping piazza and more than a dozen restaurants and bars. It also has eight green clay courts and offers tennis tuition by Sunball, the German coaching company. And we were in luck: it had two free rooms, one in the family-oriented Porto Sani Village and one in the boutique-style Asterias Suites. We tossed a coin. I bagged the Asterias Suites.

Sani is a gated resort, which makes it a safe environment for children, but arranged along four miles of beachfront, it doesn’t feel enclosed. It doesn’t feel particularly Greek either – the chic white sunloungers and cappuccino-coloured parasols that line the shore could easily be South Beach, Miami, though the “old” Greek church, currently being built next to the main tennis courts, looks rather more Hellenic.

I was very happy with my accommodation. Spacious and stylish, my suite had a large terrace overlooking the beach. The plumbing exuded the occasional whiff, but other than that, it was perfect. As was the rest of the 50-suite, low-rise hotel, from its funky, white sail-shaded bar, to its glamorous pool. It even had an outdoor cinema.

Our first tennis lessons were booked for 10am and I felt a twinge of guilt as, not only did I get the best-looking coach, the dashing Apostolos, but also the only court with shade. Apostolos hit me a few balls then crossed to my side of the net. I knew what was coming: we were going back to basics. He showed me how to hold my racquet, how to stand, and how to hit a forehand stroke; all very different from the way I was first taught, decades ago. There was a lot of visual imagery, such as “take a photo of the sky or the ball with the end of your racquet” and “say hello to your target”. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Casilda on the next court, driving long, hard shots over the net. Was it my imagination, or did her Slovakian coach look rather cross?

It turns out that there is much more to tennis than eye-to-ball co-ordination: there’s your motivation for playing, how you cope with stress, whether you’re a perfectionist or not, your level of self belief, and the Sunball teaching method takes all of this into consideration. Oh yes, and it’s also important to enjoy yourself. Which I was. Until lesson three…

Lesson three was with Casilda’s Slovakian coach, Robert. After half an hour, he took away the balls. For 20 minutes, I sweated in the blazing sun, swishing and swiping at nothing, trying to get my backhand right. “No! One-two-three-four!” said an increasingly exasperated Robert. My despair grew with every step. I suggested we stop but Robert merely sighed and rolled his eyes. The only time I got it right was when I aimed my racquet at Robert’s head. Alas, he ducked.

The sainted Apostolos returned the following day and calm was restored. We went back to taking a picture of the ball with the end of my racquet and saying hello to my target (or was it the other way around?). If I’d had another week with Apostolos (OK, maybe a month), I really think I might have overcome that family gene.

While Casilda and I waited for our taxi to the airport, I filled in a guest questionnaire. Next to “food”, I wrote “mainly good” (it was superb in Asterias Suites and in several of the restaurants, but my diced-carrot and mozzarella salad in the Bousoulas Beach Bar was woeful). And next to “spa”, I wrote “a bit disappointing” (and I didn’t like the heavy product sell at the end of my facial). To everything else – atmosphere (guests were mostly British, Russian and German), service (charming if occasionally a little forgetful), and value for money (food and drink – and the tennis lessons – were all reasonably priced) I gave top marks. To put it in tennis terms: it was game, set and match to Sani.