An International Tennis Experience, By Ivo Barbic

Somebody once said, “When you get old, the only thing left are stories.”  Well, not for this bunch of 65 year old men and women, representing 20 different nations, who went to Turkey in November to compete in the Super Seniors World Championship of Tennis.

 The setting: a beach resort, close to Antalya in Southern Turkey.  The program: 10 days of Tennis competition – 32 red clay tennis courts were the battle field on which French, Italian, Australian, English ,German, Austrians and others crossed racquets and did battle under their flags.

 Aside from the incredibly high level of tennis competition, what really amazed me during this trip was the richness of different and distinctive styles displayed on and off  by the representatives of each nationality.

 The Italians were “impeccable” in their blue (azura) warm-up suits. Somehow, they seem able to talk to each other… all at same time!  I have no idea how they understand each other, but they definitely managed to play well as we ended up competing with them for 3rd place.  Once on the court, with their warm-ups off, they begin to play like they talk: fast, emotional and with a touch of street-fighting flair.  They support each other loudly and have an argument with the ball every time a mistake is made – Mama mia!  They were amongst the top contenders, but we stole the prize after a series of tough matches.

The British started off by being fashionably late for their practice session.  The fellows, unlike the ladies’ team, reminded me of a bunch of students just finishing a friendly game of rugby.  A constant positive attitude permeated their manner and speech towards themselves, their opponents and the game itself.  Once in awhile a well positioned “Bloody!” might slip out, which was understandable because they were getting beaten pretty badly by our players. They enjoyed the food and the drink as much as the tennis, and it looked to me like they had the youthful attitude and camaraderie of high school buddies.

The Australians, with “Wallabies” printed all over their clothes and their heavy accents, were playing solid tennis and showing tremendous physical strength.  But the good life got to them in the 3rd set.  They were a truly friendly bunch, ready to do back flips to please you!  They came a long way to compete and they never complained.  At the restaurant their table was full of animation, and they were almost always the last ones to leave.  Good times!

The French were serious and a little nervous.  They played with logic and determination, and were in great physical shape.  Initially, their attitudes seemed a bit stiff and reserved, but a little talk about their villages and food and how much they all missed France got them feeling at ease.  They had a good run and finished in 5th place over the Aussies. On the court, they look for the perfect shot: win “brilliantly” is their motto. 

The Austrians are a small group and they seem to know each other since birth. They have the number one player in the World and they are proud of it.  All of them look “healthy” with a mixture of Italian (manners) and German (look).  At the restaurant and on the court they stick together and keep a low profile. They play very well from the baseline and let their opponents take all the risks.  Their No.1 plays a slightly different, more aggressive play and he is a pleasure to watch.  They ended up beating us in the semis and the Germans in the final.  These guys take their tennis very seriously.

The Germans look German: strong physically and mentally. The whole team, with black eagles printed on their warm-up suits, gives the impression of a well discipline bunch of guys who are happy to be outside and ready to kick some butt.  Their game is based on strong fundamentals and they use the baseline as their artillery position from which they shoot balls from corner to corner.  Not known for their overly creative play they maintain a solid game plan that you have to destabilize in order to beat.  They are in great shape – very impressive athletes.  It’s a team that will always make the final rounds because of the depth on their roster and the country’s commitment to senior tennis.

The Spanish players were the smallest, but they are feisty and never, ever give up.  They hold the racquet like a sword and barely crack a smile the whole match.  A serious bunch – they get dressed up for diner and join the rest of the Spanish speakers (i.e., the Argentines, who were only two, and the Puerto Ricans, who brought their wives and girlfriends) for a coffee and smokes. 

The Americans are the ones to beat – everyone wants a piece!  We come in force and the USTA is well represented with experienced players who have been well tested through our series of national tournaments.  We fight on a surface that does not exist anymore in the US (i.e., red clay) and have to adapt very quickly to the “funny” bounces and the irregularities of that surface.  We play to win and like to close the points pretty fast, and sometimes we lack patience when playing strong defensive players.  But overall we always end up in the final four.  The team is well organized – practice times and match schedules are taken seriously, but once the matches are over it is time for a beer…or a walk to the town to get on the computer and check the messages from home.

In this international experience everybody knows something about everybody else – most of us having been playing in tournaments for so many years.  The interesting part of the challenge is to figure out what each of these players from different parts of the world is going to bring to the competition – what type of game, what types of idiosyncrasies – and then figure out how to out smart those players… or just simply remain standing.  It is a fun and fascinating event, full of great unity, nationalism, fierce competition, and camaraderie with wonderful people in a wonderful location.

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