Coaching the rich and famous in Mijas

Jenny playing at Wimbledon in the 1950s.
Jenny playing at Wimbledon in the 1950s. / SUR
  • Jenny Hoad, Tennis player and coach

  • Australian tennis stars Lew and Jenny Hoad opened up the first tennis club in Spain in 1972

The Costa del Sol has long been an area that's beauty has attracted a steady flow of world-renowned movie stars, musicians, bohemian artists and sporting personalities. One of Australia's most prominent tennis partnerships is among the sporting celebrities who decided to settle here in the late 1960s.

Lew Hoad and his wife Jenny first arrived in Malaga in 1967. The couple came in search of a property that they could convert into a tennis club where Lew could coach following his retirement from his professional career in the mid-1960s.

Lew Hoad was one of Australia's greatest tennis talents and Jenny was also a respected player who was no stranger to Wimbledon or the US, French and Australian Open championships.

Following a hectic career, playing in tournaments all over the world, the Hoads bought a rundown farmhouse in Mijas Costa, which they turned into the first club of its kind in Spain.

Once the transfer of the land had been finalised, the couple hired a team of local builders to start the conversion of the farmhouse and the surrounding land. They started with one main court and four other courts, surrounded by landscaped gardens planted with orchids, water lilies, palms and eucalyptus trees that Jenny brought over from Australia. With the help of a longtime friend, the couple worked from dawn to dusk to turn the old farm into the world-renowned Lew Hoad Tennis and Padel Club; once the club was completed, they began to welcome some of the world's greatest tennis stars.

Even though Jenny sold the club in 1999, following her husband's death from leukaemia in 1994, she still has strong ties to the club. She organises the annual Veterans ITF Tournament that is held in honour of her late husband and can often be found offering coaching sessions, although in a much smaller capacity than when she owned the club.

Some of Jenny's greatest treasures are memories of the wonderful times she shared with her husband during the club's golden years. The guest book, which Jenny still cherishes today, includes names such as Roy Emerson, Stan Smith, Tom Gorman, Jimmy Connors and Björn Borg, to name just a few.

However, it was not only the tennis elite that visited the club, as the visitors' book demonstrates.

Peter Ustinov, Stewart Granger, Ava Gardener, Richard Burton, Sean Connery and James Hunt were among the host of stars who stayed at the club.

“Lew loved having people around, the more interesting and challenging the better. I remember an incident one night involving Stewart Granger and Richard Burton - who had consumed far too much brandy. Burton began to get a little outlandish so Lew persuaded him to go to bed, which wasn't easily done, but Lew could always handle situations like this,” Jenny tells SUR in English.

One of the strangest friendships was struck up with the great jazz saxophonist, Stan Getz, who visited the club for lessons in the 1970s.

“Lew loved jazz and was a huge fan of Stan Getz, but when he saw his hero lurching around the court, Lew told him to forget tennis and stick to his sax,” Jenny explains, smiling as she recalls the incident.

However, the jazz giant would return to the club with his young son the following year and this episode is another that Jenny remembers with delight.

“Stan asked if he could leave Nicky (his son) with us for a couple of weeks while he toured in Europe and we obviously agreed. We didn't see Stan again for about a year, although by time he returned, his son had become a confident player,” Jenny says.

Sadly, Lew Hoad was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1994 and died just a few months later. Jenny continued to run the club for several years, but was eventually forced to sell, which, in her own words, “was an extremely difficult decision to make”.

“Looking back I wouldn't change a thing. I love this area and have many great memories of my life here with Lew; he absolutely adored Spain. It would be pointless living anywhere else, after all, I've been here 50 years now,” Jenny says with a hint of nostalgia.