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Senior Spotlight - Fred Farzanegan of Tampa

August 20, 2008 02:13 PM

Fred Farzanegan, 69, of Tampa has been named to the USA Jack Crawford Cup team for men 70 and over and will represent the USA during the ITF Super-Seniors World Team Championships in Antalya, Turkey, October 12-18.  He is currently ranked No. 1 in Men’s 70s and recently won the 70 Indoor and Hard Court singles titles, and was a doubles finalist at the 70 Hard Courts.  Playing out of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, Fred is a self-taught tennis player and picked up the game after graduating from Lafayette College in Eastern Pennsylvania.  With matches against tennis greats like Jimmy Connors, Bobby McKinley and Bill Lenoir, USTA Florida caught up with Fred to learn more about his experiences in the great game of tennis.

Q.  How did you get involved in tennis?

A.  I was a baseball player in college.  We had quite a good team at Lafayette College and my sophomore year, we went to the College World Series in Omaha.  My ambition at one point was to play professional baseball, but that never developed.  So after college, I needed to play a sport because I was always active.  I tried golf, but it just didn’t have enough action for me, so I took up tennis.  I lived in Washington D.C. and started to play on a regular basis and was sort of smitten with it.  I use to practice by hitting against the wall.

Q.  Did you take lessons?
Never took any lessons.

Q.  Wow, so you were self taught?
Because I was a good athlete, I became good quickly; but, good is of course, relative.  A gentleman named Phil Neff, who was about ten years older than me, sort of took me under his wing and really taught me about tennis and tournaments.  I started traveling with him and we’d play in the Mid-Atlantic Section.  But then I went off to graduate school and ended up in St. Louis.  The first couple of years I was getting my PHD in psychology, but once I passed my exam I started to play and did quite well.

Q.  Talk about some of the big name players you played in St. Louis.
A.  Some names out of the past I played were Bobby McKinley, Chuck McKinley’s brother.  He was a senior in high school at the time and was quite good because a year later, he won boys’ 18 in Kalamazoo.  And the big big name was Jimmy Connors.  He was 15 at the time and I played him some.

Q.  Did you have victories over them? 
A.  No, never.  Even at 15 he [Connors] was very tough.  I played Bobby in the finals of one tournament and he beat me.  I was an old man compared to these guys at the time.  I was 27.  But that is just how it was in those days.  The juniors were the top players.  From my previous times playing tennis, I really jumped a notch.

Q.  You then moved and taught at the University of North Carolina, Ashville, correct?
I was a college professor in psychology and the coach of the men’s tennis team.  They didn’t have women’s tennis at the time.  UNC, Ashville was a small school and I got the first scholarship for a player.  There wasn’t even a scholarship program then.

Q.  Do you think kids should play collegiate tennis before they turn pro?
It’s a hard call, but I would say probably 95% of them should be going to college.  Someone has to be unusually talented to decline college.  I don’t think they realize how tough the competition is.  We are not just talking country wise – we are talking about the entire world.  If you look now, the top players in the world are not American.  There is talent is all over the place, so to give up your education for a very slight chance of making it, you’ve got to really be a phenom to forgo your academics.  Because once you forgo it, it is very hard to get back because life just takes over.

Q.  You had a good year record on hard courts this year.  What is your favorite surface to play on?
I am a clay court player, basically.  In Washington, there is a lot of indoor tennis, so you had to play both; clay in summertime and hard court in the wintertime.  I did well on both of them, but while I have been in Florida, since 1985, I seldom ever play on anything else other than clay.  The only time I play on hard is when I get ready for National tournaments and I’ll play on hard courts for a week before.  Going out to Houston, I won the National Indoors and I had only hit on hard courts maybe 5 or 6 times before I went out there.  And then I went out to California to win the National Hard Courts - again, playing only 5 or 6 times on hard courts.  But I can play on hard courts because I use to play on them, but in Florida it’s just too hot to play on hard courts.

Q.  If you had to choose between baseball and tennis, which would it be?
Tennis is by far the best that you can do.  Tennis is not just a game, it is a workout.  Especially in singles which is what I usually play.   I liked it when I played, but I never go to a baseball game.  I have no interest in it because it is way too slow to watch.

Q.  What is this about a continuous doubles match you have played for 15 years?
A.  I play doubles once a week and have had an ongoing game for 15 years with the same people.  It is amazing.  But one of the guys passed away this year – a pro at our club and big-time player – Bill Lenoir [he was director of tennis at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club since 1985].  When I first moved into town I met him and we’ve been friends and played ever since.  But last year he died of thyroid cancer.  It was sad.  He was a very nice man.

Q.  What are your thoughts about the current state of senior tennis?
A.  Most of the people that I’ve played along the way, as you get older, lots of them have dropped out for health reasons, etc.  But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t newer people that come in.  However; it is rare at this point in my age group that somebody comes to play that you’ve never heard of.  Usually, it is about the same people.   Senior tennis in Florida is quite strong because a lot of people come down here to play.  They have a regular senior tour starting in January that includes about six tournaments.

Q.  Are you talking about the Grand Prix?

A.  Something like that.  And these people are not necessarily Floridians.  Most of them are retired so they will take four or five months off and come down here and play in the winter months and as soon as it is warm, they go back to wherever they are from.  So the competition is really quite good.

Q.  Is there something you would change about senior tennis?
A.  Here is one of my complaints.  I still working part-time and the tournaments they have for competitive tournament players, they make it a whole week.  You have to take off a whole week to play and I don’t want to do that.  You got a 16, 18, or 20 person draw; just make it Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  They used to be that way.  That is my only pet peeve about it.

Q.  Do you have any particular players you watch on tour or like to follow? 
A.  I am an avid fan of Roger Federer.  I watch a lot of tennis now, especially with the Tennis Channel.  I really like Federer and I was really pulling for him to win Wimbledon.  He is such a classy player and his personality is really pleasing.  He is affable, but I think it is going to hurt attendance because a lot of people want to see Federer in the finals and since he is going through a rough time, I am not sure he is going to put it together again because he has clearly lost confidence.   He has got to re-coupe and see a sports psychologist or something.

Q.  Speaking of sport psychology, are there certain principles that you take from your background and apply to your tennis game?
A.  The thing that you never want to focus on is outcomes.  In other words, winning or losing is an outcome.  What you want to focus on is performance.  When I go out there, I never say, ‘I have to get this point’ or ‘This is a big point’.  What I try to do is tell myself, ‘Watch the ball,’ ‘Move your feet,’ ‘Get ready early,’ ‘Run for every ball’.  But I never say, ‘This is an important match,’ ‘You are in the finals,’ ‘I’ve got to win this match,’ or ‘I’ve got to win this point’.  Those kinds of things generate anxiety and when you get anxious, it breaks down the coordination and you are going to make more errors.  And you are also going to get tight.  So the thing I try to do is focus on performance rather than outcomes.  And I really try to practice what I teach. Playing in the here and now and playing in the moment are so important.  These are just words, but you can actually do them while playing.

Q.  Are there any special matches that stand out in your mind? 
A.  Yes.  It is one that haunts me because I lost it.  I had won the National 60s Clay Courts my first year and the following year, I made it to the finals and played Gene Scott [International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee and founder, publisher and editor of Tennis Week magazine].  We were in the finals and it’s a very close match.  We are 6-5 in the third, I have double match point and I am serving.  And I didn’t get those two and so had another match point.  Didn’t get it either.  We went into a tiebreak and I lost the tiebreak. 

Now that match, I tell you, haunts me.  Gene Scott is a great guy and a very accomplished player so I really really wanted to win the match.  You know, it’s funny.  I do a lot of sports psychology at the professional level, and I remember distinctly saying to myself, “I am going to win this match,” which is a no-no.  Obviously, I didn’t.  I took my focus off.  So that is a match I will never forget.  He came up to me after the match and he said, “Fred, you beat me in every which way except the score.”

Q.  Do you see yourself playing tennis for a longtime?
A.  As long as my health is good and I don’t break down physically, absolutely.   And right now, I am in really good shape.

Q.  How have you stayed so motivated to play? 
A.  I am competitive by nature.  I played a lot of sports and it is the competition.  It is wanting to win to tell you the truth.  I enjoy going out there and competing, that’s all.  You are pitting yourself against that person at the time and you do the best you can, he does the best he can, and that is the nice thing about tennis.  You shake hands and then talk about it.  But that is one thing that kept me going - the competition and the will to want to win.

Q.  Finally, what are you looking forward to most about traveling to the World Team Championships and competing for the USA? 
A.  First off, I hope we do well and can win it.  For me, it’s another tournament except I am not playing so much for myself, but for the country.  I am looking forward to the experiences of playing foreign players.  I have done it before, but I don’t do it on a regular basis.  I am also looking forward going to Turkey, which I have never been to.  I have been reading up on it, listening to Turkish music.  And I am looking forward to the camaraderie with my teammates (Robert Duesler, Herman Ahlers and Jim Nelson).  I know all of them.  I have been playing these guys for the past 25 years.  Jim Nelson was on the same trip with me to England, on the Fred Perry Cup team. 

Fred, thanks for taking the time to talk to USTA Florida.  Keep up the great work and good luck in Turkey! 

Related: Seventeen Florida Players Named to International Teams






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