I recently returned from the 2018 National Women’s Intersectional Team Championships in Phoenix, Arizona. I played #1 singles and #1 doubles on Team New England’s 65 and over team. There were 15 teams from different USTA sections in our division and 6 different divisions: 35 and over, 45, 55, 65, 75, and even an 80-and-over division. With a minimum of 4 players per team this totaled over 300 women competing in the desert for the national championship.
The format is 3 singles followed by 2 doubles … lunch is between of course! We began our quest against a team from the Pacific Northwest, and we dispatched them in fine fashion winning all 3 singles and both doubles. The next day we took on Texas. I played Sue Bramlette, a nationally ranked player who hits two hands off both sides. I knew to watch for her angles so tried to serve at her body and then make her stretch for her ground strokes. I won this match 6-3, 6-0 and then picked up another box lunch! In doubles we played Sue, and Ann Moore, a friend from my tennis days as a junior. We won in convincing fashion 6-3, 6-1, and moved on to Southern California in the semis.
The Southern California section team was captained by Tina Karwasky, the #1 player in the U.S. and top 4 player in the world. I was slated to play her next. I knew Tina well, not only by her tennis reputation, but because she was the captain of our U.S. team when I competed with her at the World Championships. I had competed against her before, but this time I was facing her after having been her teammate, when our U.S. team won the world championships in Croatia. It’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs in our circuit and also at the professional level of tennis, given that tennis, which is primarily is an individual sport, sometimes becomes a team sport, such as when countries compete for the Davis Cup, and when professional doubles’ partners–especially in women’s tennis, where many of the top players compete in doubles and singles–end up competing against each other (notably the Williams’ sisters, of course).
Approaching my singles match against Tina, I was well aware of her 128 gold balls, depicting her wins at national championships, and that Tina had NEVER lost a match in her age division. I began the match and went down 3-0 before I hardly even took a breath. Then I began to hit deep through the middle to take all angles away, and I used a drop shot to get at her movement. Although I lost the set 6-4, I was on the right track. The second set I went up 5-0 (I was a bit stunned!), and she was pressing and making mistakes. In Tina fashion, she calmed down and began her march back but I held on to win that set 6-2. The third set with new balls she started shortening the points and considering that I was winning the long rallies, she took this away from me. She also stepped up right on the baseline to take time away from me and give herself control of the court. I got smoked 6-0! But I felt that I had competed well. Perhaps I was happy to have taken a set and just never countered her change of tactic. That afternoon both of our doubles teams lost, so our New England team moved on to a playoff for 3rd or 4th place the following day.
The fourth and final day saw Southern California lose to Southern in a tight match in the championship 3-2. We defeated Midwest 3-2 for third upholding our seed. I played Lisa Culp, a former touring pro from Chicago. And after I won the first set 6-3 and being up 4-1, she began to serve and volley on both first and second serves. I have never played against this style, especially in the Seniors, and felt rushed and off balance. She climbed back to even the score, and I was getting tighter and tighter. I tried taking her serve early to give her less time to get in to the net and also tried to take pace off to make her work harder. I held on in a tiebreaker when she double-faulted at match point! Our #2 singles player lost to even the score but then #3 won, so we had to win just 1 of the 2 doubles in the afternoon. I moved to #2 doubles, and we won, going away 6-1, 6-1 to clinch third place.
Now, the important part…. Playing on a team, practicing together, supporting each other and all of the other New England teams is a special experience. I am so lucky to be friends with many of the players from other sections, people that I would not have in my life if not for tennis. Some of these people, like Ann Moore, I have known since the juniors, and we remain friends 50 years later. Some are new friends, all brought together through tennis, as teammates and as opponents. Tina Karwasky, Wendy McColskey, Brenda Carter, Carol Gay, Cindy Babb, Kerry Ballard, all world class players who are included in my circle of friends. These friendships are enduring, withstanding the pressure of competition. While we try desperately to get at each other on the court, the minute the match is over we are back into friendship mode. This is a lucky life. This is an unbelievable sport!
Featured in picture: Cindy Babb, Brenda Carter, Wendy McColskey and other members of the Southern team — winners of the 65 National Championships.