The increase in tennis participation by kids and adults alike in Cayman has been considerable in recent years, partly thanks to the devotion of Thomas Neuert, director of tennis at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
But after exactly nine years here, the 37-year-old German is leaving this week to pursue business projects in Florida with his brothers Markus and Andreas.
Thomas will spend some time with his parents in Sarasota before joining his siblings in Miami in March to see how successful Neuert Brothers Enterprises (NBE) can become.
Their first project will be to market a “question and answer social utility app” he said, adding, “It’s a sort of Tripadvisor, connecting people with people. It’s instant, tons of advice, anytime, anywhere.”
NBE feel there is a void in the app market for those visiting a place or relocating long-term who want to connect with local experts who can advise them on where to find the best restaurants, supermarkets, car rentals, tourist spots, hotels, gyms, taxis, etc.
They are also launching an online radio station and some other projects over the coming year.
Neuert will still be heavily involved in tennis, coaching part-time and building up kids programs and a corporate league as he did so successfully here.
“I’m looking forward to organizing a corporate league in Miami,” he said. “If I can organize 16-18 teams in Cayman involving over 200 players, then I think I can do that there. There is nothing like it, although they do have some kind of club competition.
“Due to the popularity here, I believe this could become a very popular weekly tennis league as well.”
Eventually Neuert hopes to get Cayman’s corporate league champions playing the Miami champs.
“It will be a fun way of all the players getting to meet others. The networking is always great for team spirit and competition amongst the employees.”
His many highlights besides establishing the corporate league include seeing around 1,000 kids going through the junior program, building up the beginner and cardio tennis programs, forging special relationships with numerous new friends and families and, of course, helping organize the Legends Tennis tournaments.
Neuert was a protege of Nick Bollettieri, the iconic Florida-based coach who in the past four decades has developed into world beaters the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Mary Pierce.
Bollettieri has also worked with Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, and coached Boris Becker for two years.
A Bollettieri employee throughout his time in Cayman, Neuert is extremely grateful for the experience.
“A big thank you to Nick for trusting in me in representing his name her in Cayman. “He knew me from my playing days in the early ‘90s when I was at his academy, and after I graduated at university, I went on to teach for him for another six years before he asked me to come here. “The only thing I knew about the Cayman Islands was that it was a tax haven.”
Neuert intended to stay for only a year, but after six months he phoned Bollettieri and confirmed it would be long term.
“I’ve had so many great experiences and that is partly because we’ve had a great coaching staff, little turnover,” Neuert said. “Uli Hoppe has been here seven years and Ilian Nachev for six.
“Working at The Ritz-Carlton and working for Nick, I’ve had the best of both worlds in the hospitality industry.”
Interacting with the Legends players was fun, particularly with Hingis, who Neuert expected to be distant and aloof.
“She was the nicest of the Legends because sometimes you ask them to do something extra and they say that it’s not in their contract, but Martina was always very accommodating.”
He also enjoyed working with Legends like Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Courier and even a mellow and affable John McEnroe. “We all know that McEnroe had a reputation of being something of a nutcase, but he was really nice.”
Many visiting Legends had such a great time that they kept in touch with Neuert and intend to come back. The Legends tournament returns next month. Neuert is sad that he will miss playing in it, but he may come back as a spectator and will certainly return regularly because of the fondness he has for Cayman.
As fit as he has ever been, Neuert puts that down to road runs he has competed in. It all started with a dare from friends to do the Cayman Islands half marathon in 2008 on short notice.
The 13.1-mile run was done in a respectable 1 hour 38 minutes for a first-timer.
When the five-year anniversary came up, Neuert decided to see if he could defy the ageing process by running it again, only faster.
He did so comfortably, four minutes faster, in 2013. The Miami half marathon was next, done in 1:32 a year ago.
Getting under 1:30 was the inevitable next ambition, and he tried to do that in Puerto Rico, but not enough research was done, and he did not realize that the course was undulating. He finished in 1:33.
He ran a relatively sluggish Cayman half in 1:38 last month, but on Jan. 25, Neuert hopes to break his target time at his second try in Miami, with brothers in tow.
“The Cayman half marathon is so well organized, I really did it as a training run because I just really enjoy doing it. Kudos to all the organizers.”
He also praised the Cayman Compass for supporting all his tennis programs over the years.
Another sporting achievement Neuert is proud of is that he was the inaugural Maxathon champion three months ago.
Maxathon is a six-discipline indoor sport devised by World Gym owner Tersh Broderick that involves two minutes of competition in shuttle sprints, dumbbell raises, basketball, football and throwing a baseball at a Maxathon target, as well as hitting tennis balls at the target. Neuert had “immense fun” doing it and hopes to return to defend his title later in the year.
“The only reason why I won was because I was good at the tennis part and got about 500 points!”
When he attended the World Cup in Brazil with Andreas last summer, Neuert decided it was time to move on to new adventures having fulfilled all that he could.
The fact that he was approaching his nine-year term limit helped crystallize decisions.
It looks like he has got his work cut out, but his unlimited energy and dedication will ensure his future ventures are just as successful as his time in Cayman.