I arrived in UMag, Croatia not knowing what to expect except that for the first time in my life I was no longer playing for myself, my university, or my Intersectional Team. Now I was playing for my country and we were clothed accordingly in Adidas red, white and blue.
UMag is a coastal resort town with multiple tennis sites and hotels along the Adriatic. At times it felt like a large campground with people sunbathing in various types of suits (more Speedos than I have seen in a long time).
By the time the four of us, the USA 65 women’s team, had arrived from Southern California, North Carolina, Boston and Amherst, MA, we only had 1 day to practice on the incredibly slow red clay. We were using a Head ATP Tennis Ball that made the conditions even slower.
After our first afternoon practice we went to the huge ATP Tennis stadium for opening ceremonies, where I was one of 4 players to carry the U.S. flag in front of the 9 teams in various age categories 65 (my team), 70, 75, 80 and believe it or not, 85!
The 65 matches all took place at the Polynesia courts at the top of UMag. We were given 2 tiny bottles of water for each match, which was often not enough as the temperatures ranged from 82-85 degrees daily with high humidity. We had to pay for any other bottles of water and at dinner the same applied. Ice? No way. Ice and water seem to be a commodity not to be shared or wasted. We also were asked to give a deposit for practice balls and as we warmed up each morning around 8am. One of us could often be seen rummaging through the poplar trees hunting for a stray ball. We got charged for lost balls…
First round we drew the Canadians. First rounds are always tough, the nerves are obvious for all teams who have been practicing for months. We beat the Canadians soundly but they fought hard and valiantly. We won 3-0. The following day we had a bye so we hired a driver and drove down the coast to Rovinj where we spent some hours poking around before we headed back to practice.
On Wednesday we played a team from Sweden but once again we came out strong. I was part of the doubles team that played the third match and the day was interminably long. The entire 3 matches were played on 1 court beginning with #2 singles followed by #1 singles and finally the doubles. We warmed up at 8:30 each morning for only 20 minutes (our allotted time) and then waited for the first match to begin at 10. We often had to wait until 1:00 to play doubles without lunch or any other substantial warmup. This match marked the end of the round robin format. The top 4 teams headed into the knockout round … semis, then finals.
On Thursday we faced the team from Great Britain in the semi’s, who were quite strong. Our singles players won both of their matches so we played the doubles with no pressure. This is always the way to play and certainly added to my enjoyment.
In the finals, on Friday, we played the Aussies, who had been scouting us all week. They got to the finals last year and wanted to go out strong. Wendy McColskey won fairly easily at #2 and then Tina Karwasky played a tight 3 setter against Kerry Ballard from Australia. I have known Kerry for over 35 years, and she is now one of the top 3 players in our division in the world. Tina was down 3-0 in the third set, and I was pacing in the bushes trying to get ready for the deciding doubles. As is Tina’s style, she touched it out by coming back and winning 6-4! Though our doubles were meaningless in the result, Vicky and I certainly wanted to win. We started unfocused and a bit flat, went down 3 love before we got ourselves together by winning the next 3 games. We lost the set 6-4 and the following 7-5. We had chances but not quite enough toughness. It was a team effort, and after a year of preparing and hoping to be a member of the USA team in Croatia, I was now a part of this amazing U.S. Team — World Team Champions.
Closing ceremonies turned out to be fairly emotional as we were awarded our gold medals on court from the ITF, then stood while the national anthem was played. I am proud of this team and like so many team events we bonded through Tennis and competition. As I leave UMag I know that I will miss the comradeship established over the last 12 days, and I will have wonderful memories of this championships.
Australia – 2nd place 65