NAPLES — There are shocks of greenery in all the wrong places on Naples Bath and Tennis Club courts — weeds cropping up the length of one net line, along the edges of others.
The once-storied tennis center near the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge roads, with its 38 courts and clubhouse residents who speak of the "good-old days," has been largely out of commission for nearly two years.
Now, a Spanish tennis academy is back for a rematch, having purchased the club in the neighborhood for $3.27 million, with plans to reinvigorate the Naples campus of their Barcelona-based school for junior athletes.
"We want to recapture what we had before," said Arantxa Gallastegui, the local general manager for Academia Sánchez-Casal.
From its first location in Spain, the school has churned out tennis champs since 1998, including this year's Wimbledon runner-up Andy Murray.
In 2007, the academy — named for founders and champion doubles partners in the 1980s, Emilio Sánchez Vicario and Sergio Casal — hopped the Atlantic and opened a Naples branch on leased courts at the Naples Bath and Tennis Club.
The tennis center attracted young players — local and boarding students — ambitious enough to forgo traditional school for the combination of academics and athletics offered. It was shut down abruptly in fall 2010, when the club's previous owner closed down operations, from the restaurant to the courts.
Academy directors said last week that they will inform the Naples Bath and Tennis community, which includes about 420 houses and condos, of plans for the property in the coming weeks.
Those plans include rehabilitating the shuttered clubhouse and restaurant, along with providing social and tennis memberships again.
For the past year and half, community members and at least one tennis pro leased court time at the hobbled facility. Within the last two weeks, however, instructor Curly Davis got a notice he could no longer use the courts.
"I was told to move on, and I have, so I'm teaching other places now," said Davis, who also rents a home in the community.
Because the rest of the center is closed, Davis said he marketed his lessons lightheartedly as "no frills, just forehands" to compensate for minimal facilities — nowhere to eat, no gym to work out, no pool for a post-training dip.
Rumors have run rampant through the community since the club's closure.
"(Rafael) Nadal, Billie Jean King, Martina (Navratilova), every week you heard a new rumor of who was going to buy the place," said Davis, who now coaches at other tennis centers in Collier County.
Along with the 33,000-square-foot clubhouse with its bar, pool, restaurant and fitness center, as well as the tennis courts, Academia Sánchez-Casal also purchased six condos. All of the facilities had been sold back to a bank by the previous owner in March in lieu of foreclosure. The school will offer boarding for students in on-site housing.
For now, the pool at the clubhouse remains dark and murky. Debris blown off trees during storms covers many of the tennis courts.
There is work to be done, but it's largely cosmetic, according to Gallastegui.
The academy advertises on its website and social media pages that tennis camps will begin this summer, and the manager said the repairs will be done in time for classes to start in late July, and for the clubhouse to open in August.
The ad campaign has gone national, with space bought on the Tennis Channel during the French Open, and international, with ads on ESPN in Latin America in the hopes of filling spaces at the last minute for camp this summer.
"The community knows we need to support this facility to keep our community viable," said Robin Frederick, head of the board of homeowners' associations at Naples Bath and Tennis Club. "For me — property value, community-wise — I want to see it open and being used, not decaying in the middle."
Since the neighborhood was developed in the 1970s, residents report there have been highs and lows as the club changed owners several times, and some remain skeptical of the new plans. Finances were cited as a reason for the 2010 closure.
"We've had such a track record, no matter who owns the place, they can't make a profit. From the business element, it's a white elephant," said Bill Busch, a resident in the neighborhood since the late 1990s and a social member at the club.
Gallastegui said the academy's experience running a country club along with its tennis facility in Spain, however, works in its favor.
Under the ownership of Tennis Realty, headed by CEO Craig Bouchard, zoning was changed at Naples Bath and Tennis in January 2010, after years of controversy and opposition from residents, to allow for the construction of a 48-room hotel.
"This property … cries out to become another big tennis property, a Tiburon kind of thing," said resident Jay Wolff, referring to the golf resort and hotel three miles north.
But no hotel was built, and the tennis academy doesn't plan on it, according to the local manager.
"We're not into that," Gallastegui said.
Now, after years of speculation, residents of the community just want to know if and when they'll get the tennis center back that attracted many of them in the first place. They have yet to hear from the academy about any plans, and like a nail-biting rally at the end of a match, there is expectation and worry.
"Until (Emilio) Sánchez shows up and holds a meeting," Busch said, "we're completely in the dark."
There's also speculation that the school's reopening could revitalize tennis locally, especially by holding juniors tournaments like years ago as the academy said it intends to do.
"That's what everybody's hoping for, that it could be a boost for tennis around here," instructor Davis said. "It remains to be seen."