Preparing for national tournaments is always an interesting experience, particularly when practicing indoors on hard courts and then having to transition to outdoor clay courts. I am never sure what to expect, therefore I arrived in Florida three days before the start of the event. This was the first tournament of 2020 for the 0’s (40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 divisions), and many of the top players were entered all hoping to see what the new year would bring. I arrived on Saturday and went right to the courts to hit with one of the teaching pros at the host club. I knew that I needed to get used to the clay, heat, sun (what’s that?), and wind as quickly as possible. Clay court tennis is completely different from indoor hard — the ball is coming back, patience is rewarded, drop shots are crucial, and the second serve is fatal.
I was seeded second in the singles and first in doubles with my new partner Brenda Carter, who captained the World Team in Croatia. We had never played together, but we knew we would have fun. Playing senior tennis requires flexibility and stamina. Injuries abound, and this tournament was no different. I stopped counting the number of knee braces, bandages, compression sleeves — a dizzying display. Defaults also are plentiful as players are often injured by just the smallest of missteps. No fun getting older.
The singles draw in the 70’s was filled with experienced players. I won my first round match (often the first round is the match with the most nerves) against Sue Bramlette from Houston, 6-2, 6-0. My quarterfinal match was against Sue Kimball, which I won 6-2, 6-1, and in the semis I played Molly Hahn who has played on numerous World Teams. I played well and stayed focused for a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
The final day was a replay of the National Claycourt finals last April when I lost to Toni Novack, U.S. #1, in two tight sets (pictured with me in the lead image of this post). Toni hits drop shots from anywhere in the court, and I found myself often two inches from the net … perhaps not the best place to be. I have never run for so many drop shots in my life and hope not to have to do so again, at least for the next two months! Toni and I battled for over an hour in the first set to get to a tiebreaker. By the smallest of margins, I won the first set. Clay court tennis means challenging on every point, not missing returns of serve, playing the point through to the end, and serving well. Although there were many moments when I lost focus and made too many unforced errors, I played tough enough and squeezed out the second set 6-4, and with that, I had won the match and the 70s division championship! With eyes set on being invited to play on the U.S. Team at the International Championships later this year, and knowing it might be my last chance to do so, this victory was a particularly happy way to start my 2020 competition schedule.
Soon after the singles win, Brenda and I took the court for the doubles final against Sue Kimball and Pam Simons and won 6-2, 6-2. The match was fun to play with many good points and great gets by my partner, who is still coming back from an ACL tear.
Senior tennis has much to offer…. Besides the great competition, the friendships established make these events rich. Seeing the same people from around the country year after year adds to all of our lives. As I draw closer to the end of my competitive days, I feel more and more fortunate to be a part of this grand sport.
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