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Cast of Characters Readies for US Open Tennis Playoffs Qualifying-Florida

May 25, 2010 07:00 PM
US Open National PlayoffsBy Rick Vach, www.ustaflorida.com

Your tennis "bucket list" -- win a local tournament? Check.

Advance with your team to USTA League Nationals? Check.

Play in the US Open? Really?

This weekend approximately 90 players from across Florida (and a few other states) will be able to check that off their list of tennis achievements when they compete in the US Open National Playoffs Qualifying-Florida, May 29-June 2, 2010, at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Among the expected mix of teens, college players, USTA Pro Circuit players and former pros is a surprising number of 30-somethings, 40-somethings, and even 50-somethings who are excited about the experience of playing in the US Open (Qualifying).

"First, this is such a great idea. For me, winning is totally unrealistic. I know that," says Christopher De Tone, a 42-year-old 4.5 NTRP-level player from Clearwater. "If I win a game, or even a few points, it would be a thrill. But I wanted to do it because I love tennis, the USTA and the US Open. I am 42 years old and I will be able to say that I tried. It's better than being afraid and sitting on the sidelines. Being able to play hardcourt tennis at Bollettieri's is a dream. All everyone my age likes to do is play on Har-Tru (clay). I like aggressive, attacking American hardcourt tennis. No matter what happens on the court, it is already worth it."

Participants' jobs range from students (middle and high school) to security personnel, writers, global chief architects, Interventional Cardiology physicians, tennis teaching professionals, models, business owners, medical billers, Nike Factory Store associates, logistic managers, college players, USTA Pro Circuit players, former ATP players, and one self-described "web dude."

The men's event will be a 64 draw, and the women's a 32 draw. This is the first year of the US Open National Playoff Qualifying-Florida, where anyone 14 years of age and older has the chance to qualify for the 2010 US Open.

"You always need some kind of luck and opportunities like this, they need more of these kinds of tournaments, not just in the Slams, but other ATP tournaments," says Marcus Yu, 21, an aspiring pro from Ft. Lauderdale. "It's a great idea to have these wildcards and get noticed. I think it will not be easy, but I should play well here."

The draws will have no seedings, so Yu could draw Rudy Reunis in the first round. Reunis, 54 years old of Port St. Lucie, was playing college tennis for Buffalo State University in 1981-82, before Yu was born.

"The concept is awesome," Reunis says. "I truly love the game and didn't have a chance earlier on to accomplish my dream. I feel as if I missed my calling. So who knows, it ain't over 'til it's over."

The draws will be randomly peppered with the experienced, such as Reunis, to players newer to the game, such as 45-year-old Eric Eriksen of Bradenton, who started playing tennis five years ago and describes his playing style as "aggressive and impatient."

Eriksen is a six-time national Norwegian junior champion (in swimming) and has risen to a 4.5-level NTRP recreational tennis rating.

"It's an opportunity to play in a US Open qualifier in my own backyard. Love the concept, although the odds are a tad stacked against me," Eriksen says. "I wish my parents had put me in tennis as a kid and made me hit balls all day long, instead they put me outside in the driveway with a shovel to clear away the snow."

One player on the favorite's list will be 38-year-old Mehdi Tahiri of Inverness, Fla., via Morocco, who ranked Top 400 on the ATP Rankings.

"I want to find out if I can still play as well as I used to and to show my son, Malik, how to work hard and train for a tournament," Tahiri says. "I want to see how well I can play against the "new generation" of players. The Playoff concept is a great opportunity for someone that has the ability to play at a professional level, but doesn't have the money to tour and play the tournaments necessary to increase their ranking high enough to make it a career. It is a life-changing opportunity."

Likewise, 26-year-old Chantal Igherighe of Tampa, a model and business owner, sees the event as a chance to fulfill her pro tennis fantasy after picking up the game at a later age.

"As someone that got a late start in the game, this is a wonderful opportunity to make my dreams come true!" Igherighe says. "I think it's an awesome concept because I feel there are so many talented tennis players in the U.S. that don't have an opportunity to display their hard work and training. I am so pleased that there is an opportunity for players from all different age groups, and backgrounds, to have an opportunity to make their dreams come true. I look forward to playing hard, and giving my all."

The men's and women's winners of the USTA Florida sectional qualifying tournament will advance along with other sectional winners to the 2010 US Open National Playoff held in conjunction with the Olympus US Open Series -- the Men's Championships on July 22-25 at the Atlanta Athletic Club during the ATP World Tour's Atlanta Tennis Championships, and the Women's Championships on July 29-August 1 at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium at Stanford University in California during the WTA Tour's Bank of the West Classic.

Participant David Cook, 39, of Bradenton says that even if that player advancing to Atlanta is not him, playing in the US Open National Playoff Qualifying-Florida is the highlight.

"I entered this tournament for the experience," Cook says. "The playoff concept is wonderful and gives everyday players a feel of being part of the US Open."

The tournament draw will be made on Wednesday, May 26, at 8 p.m. Check www.ustaflorida.com throughout the tournament for daily blogging and results. For more info, the draw or the full list of participants, go to:






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