Sunday, May 18, 2014


Paul D'Amico & Mike Baldwin
Where does the time go? It has been a week already since the final ball was tossed up, and the champions were crowned at the USPTA Clay Court Championships at The Landings Yacht, Golf & Tennis Club in Fort Myers. As always Paul D’Amico, his staff, and The Landings facility proved exemplary hosts for one of the USPTA’s National surface events.
Robyn George of News-Press with
Sam & Hannah in the crowd
Several professionals distinguished themselves at the event by winning multiple divisions, including two who took home three titles, winning each event they entered. Let me start with the heroic efforts of the individual who completed the triple with the most difficulty. No, the fact that she toppled me and my partner has nothing…well maybe a little…to do with it.

Triple Title Winner Trish Riddell
Trish Riddell
Trish Riddell of Lakeland won the Women’s 40 Singles and Doubles, and the 40 Mixed Doubles as well. In the 40 Singles, she downed Susie Evans of Marco Island 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 in a heated battle. I guess given the weather last weekend, every battle was heated.

Susie Evans & Trish 
In the Doubles Final, Trish teamed with Evans to post a comeback victory over Erica Cossairt of Cape Coral and Kerry Kendrick of Fort Myers. Riddell and Evans dropped the first set 3-6, came back to take the second 6-3, and then dominated the breaker 10-3.  

Trish & Jack Steyn
I’m sure Erica saw more than she wanted to of Trish last weekend, because Erica and I faced Trish and her partner Jack Steyn of Bradenton in the 40 Mixed semis, and we bit the dust in a full three sets. Trish and Jack jumped out to a 5-0 lead before Erica and I got on the scoreboard and made it a respectable 6-3 set. We took the second by the same score, and lost the final set 3-6 as well.

Triple Title Winner Franco Mata
Franco Mata
Courtney Vernon & Franco
The other triple-crown winner was Franco Mata of Naples, who took the Men’s Open Singles, Doubles, and Open Mixed titles. In the Doubles, Franco partnered with Ryan Sherry of Fort Myers, 
his opponent in the

Singles Final, to down Milos Vasovic and Jared Kalpin 6-1, 6-3. The Mixed event was claimed with little more difficulty, as Mata teamed with Courtney Vernon to defeat Sherry and Kendrick 6-1, 6-4 in the Final.

As is often the case, the Men’s Open Singles proved to be a high-level contest with both Finalists displaying both skill and resolve. Although the opponents appeared to be evenly matched on the skill dimension, Mata’s recent competitive efforts may have lent him the edge.

Ryan Sherry
Franco won the first set in a grueling 6-4 set, but Ryan showed no signs of going away, as he battled back to take the second set by the identical score. But Franco isn’t affectionately called “a beast” simply for his physique, the moniker also fits his ability to grind in the heat, point after point. In this instance, Ryan thought discretion to be the better part of valor and retired with Franco up 3-0 in the third.

Double Title Winners
Courtney & Jana Wilks
There were four other players who claimed victories in two events. Courtney Vernon, Coach of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Women’s Tennis team; Kam Kuchta of Boynton Beach; Mike Barnes of Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club, and Patricio Madariaga, Head Pro at Williams Island.

Women’s Open Singles & Mixed Open Doubles
Courtney Vernon, fresh off leading the FGCU Lady Eagles to their best season in their Division I history, easily captured the Open Singles by eclipsing Jana Wilks of Palm Beach Gardens 6-1, 6-0 in the Final. As mentioned above, Courtney then partnered with Franco Mata to upend Ryan Sherry and Kerry Kendrick 6-1, 6-4 in the Mixed Open Doubles.

Men’s 65 Singles & 60 Doubles
Mike Barnes
Mike Barnes, who  plies his trade primarily at Miromar Lakes, is proving to be a dominant force in both the 60 and 65 Divisions. In the 65 Singles, Barnes outdueled the legendary Fred Drilling of in the Final, posting a 6-3, 6-4 victory that was more difficult than the score indicates. In the 60 Doubles, Mike joined Larry Gagnon to defeat Drilling and Rick Flach 6-0, 6-2 and downed Armor Persons and Gewan Maharaj 6-3, 6-2 to claim that title.

Men’s 45 Singles & 40 Doubles
Kam Kuchta
Kam Kuchta continued to display the tremendous grit he always shows every time he takes the court. In the Final, Kam faced top seed Frank Vermeer of Jacksonville, who was coming off a recent finalist-finish in the Men’s 45 Singles at the ITF Seniors World Individual Championships in Palm Beach Gardens. 

The first set was all anyone could ask for, with Kam taking it 7-6. I suspect the grind of the previous few weeks, along with Kam’s indomitable will, took its toll on Frank. The second and final set was 6-1.

Frank Vermeer & Kam
Kam and Frank put their racquets together in the Men’s 40 Doubles Final against two local heroes in Mike Curran and Scott Harrington of Fort Myers. Mike and Scott have been a top-ranked USPTA doubles team in the past, but neither had seen much competition in the recent past.

Mike Curran & Scott Harrington
Both teams showed their grit in the first set, which was a see-saw battle that Mike and Scott won 7-6. Like Kam’s singles match, the second set was not nearly as hotly contested, at least as far as the score was concerned, as Kam and Frank took that set 6-1. The match-tiebreak was an anti-climactic 10-3 win for Kam and Frank.

Men’s 50 Doubles & Mixed 50 Doubles
Patricio Madariaga & Susie Brown
Last, but certainly not least, of the two-time division winners, Patricio Madariaga, emerged as a doubles specialist, taking home two doubles crowns in the 50s. Patricio dropped his opening singles match to John Jerome of Wildcat Run, he bounced back to take the 50 Doubles with Carlos Triana of Williams Island.

Carlos Triana & Patricio
Patricio and Carlos had little trouble downing Paul D’Amico and me 6-3, 6-4, and joined Susie Brown to post a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Fred Drilling and Kim Jones in the Mixed 50 Doubles Final.

Men’s 35 Singles
Milos Vasovic
Milos Vasovic of Melbourne has been one of the top performers in the USPTA’s 35s Division for the past few years, and this event was no exception. After a relatively routine victory in the semis, 6-0, 6-3 over Nate Griffin of Bradenton, Milos ran into tough local player, Dave Rowat of Cape Coral.

Dave Rowat
Dave had already fought one tough battle in the semis against No.2 Seed Mark Palus of Tampa, emerging with the three-set win (6-2, 1-6, 6-3). Dave made a fight of it in the Final against Milos as well, but Milos was too tough, claiming the title that barely escaped him the previous year, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

Men’s 50 Singles
Steve Brady
My hero of the tournament came from the Men’s 50 Division. In the Men’s Singles, Steve Brady  (my newest tennis hero) battled Carlos Triana for three and a half hours before claiming the 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 victory. 

Why is Steve my new hero? Well, I think he played serve-volley or chip and charge for every single point of that match! I quit doing that some years ago because my body couldn’t handle it…and Steve is two years older than I am. Hat's off to you big guy!

Men's 60 Singles
Gewan Maharaj
Gewan Maharaj of Tampa did what he has done so often in the Men's 60 Singles: Win. Gewan played two matches, lost five games, and pocketed yet another USPTA title.  Armor Persons of Breckenridge in Fort Myers took four games in the semis (1, 3), and Steve Shortridge of Colonial in Fort Myers got a total of one game in the second set.

Women’s 50 Singles & Doubles 
Ruth Hessert
In a feat certainly worthy of accolades, Ruth Hessert of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania came back in the Final of the Women’s 50 Singles from a 6-7 first-set deficit, to outlast Carolyn Franca of Tampa, 6-4, 7-5 in the final two sets. Anyone who knows Carolyn knows that is worthy of a raised glass.

Cindy LePrevost & Susie Brown
Landings Head Pro Kimberly Jones and Christie Bradley, Director of Tennis at The Sanctuary, also showed true grit in claiming the 50 Doubles title. In their first match against Sabita Maharaj of Rockledge and Carolyn, the locals went 6-4, 4-6, 10-5 in claiming victory.

Kim Jones & Christie Bradley
Things got no easier in their second and final match against the Defending National Champions, Susie Brown of S. Palm Beach and Cindy LePrevost of Fort Lauderdale. In what might just have been the match of these championships, Susie and Cindy took the first set 6-7. Kim and Christie charged back to take the second set 7-5, and the battle had just begun. When Kim and Christie hugged in triumph, it had taken them 13-11 to dethrone the gutsy defenders.  

Final Thoughts
Reflecting on the event, I was initially saddened by the small draw sizes, but the quality of competition was high, and if the noise level was any indication, the spectators seemed to enjoy the event as well. The Landings is one of the best venues to play and to view a tennis event, so hopefully Paul can make it happen again next year.

As always, an event like the USPTA Clay Court Championships can only be successful with the support of sponsors, and our thanks go out to our event sponsors. They include Fast Dry Courts, 10-S Tennis Supply, Welch Tennis Courts, Stan Oley Tennis Equipment, Giliberti, Inc.,  USTA Florida, and Cigar Cutters

In closing, I'd like to thank Steph for all that she does to make this blog happen. Without her talent and efforts on the camera we wouldn't have the photographic record of the event. Thanks Sweet Girl!!! Game, set, match...

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