Each competitor at the ITF Seniors World Team Championships comes to the event with a different story.
As an example we can look at a few of the women competing in the Maureen Connolly Cup Women’s 55 event at the BallenIsles Country Club this week.
Catherine Suire is playing for France. The 54-year-old who turns 55 in September is a former world-class pro who ranked as high as No. 52 in singles on the WTA Tour.
Roslyn Balodis is playing for Australia. Balodis, 55, never played on the professional tour, but has been very successful on the ITF Seniors circuit.
Alma Goosen is playing for South Africa and the captain of her team. At 57, she has no history on the pro circuit and qualified to compete in this prestigious ITF event for the first time this year.
Goosen started playing tennis as an eight-year-old and eventually became a teaching pro at home in Ceres, a farming community about 150 kilometers from Cape Town. She retired from her teaching pro duties about four years ago, saying “I did my bit for tennis and now I have more time to play a little tennis myself, because when you’re coaching you get so tired you don’t feel like hitting balls yourself.”
“We farm nectarines, peaches and plums, and apples and pears as well,” Goosen said. “I have my odd jobs on the farm. I look after the laborers. I have a love for gardening and the laborers live in their own houses on the farm and I help them with their gardening. And I do the social work so I see that the kids get to school and that they get efficient medical treatment.”
On Wednesday, South Africa was facing New Zealand, in a match between two unseeded teams, and came away with a 2-1 win. Goosen teamed with Jennifer Cerff to win the doubles over Felicity Oxnevad and Penny Smith 64 46 60.
“This is my first experience and I’m so excited and really enjoying every minute of it,” Goosen said. “I started playing tournaments in my own country, South Africa, and managed to get two points and I made the team. We don’t get funded so we have to pay our own way,” Goosen said. “I’m here for the love of the game.”
Unlike Goosen, Ros Balodis is a familiar face to the ITF Seniors World Championships events. The native of Woolongong, a town near Sydney, Balodis can start spending even more time on the tennis court now that she’s retired from her Australian Public Service job in computing.
Balodis is currently ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles, and in her senior career she’s amassed a 149-9 winning singles record and 48-4 in doubles.
This year the Australians are seeded fourth in the Maureen Connolly Cup draw.
“I’ve had a lot of success at the World Individual Championships, but I really like doing well with the teams and that’s what I’d like to do this year,” Balodis said. “We usually find the USA teams are very strong and the Great Britain and French teams so it’s a tough week. I’ve played on three teams that have won in the past.”
What she likes best about her yearly participation in this prestigious event is that it opens doors that she could never experience back in Australia.
“What I’m really enjoying at the moment is getting to meet up with the same people year after year and the friendships that start and persist over the years,” Balodis said, smiling. “It’s great to play some good tennis and meet some nice people.”
Australia posted a 2-1 result over fifth-seeded Switzerland on Wednesday. Balodis won both matches she played, scoring a 60 61 win over Susana Villaverde in singles, then teaming with Helen Shea for a 62 63 win over Villaverde and Yvette Fischli.
For Catherine Suire, her early years were spent on the WTA Tour. Although she won eight doubles titles during her time on tour, Suire’s most cherished experience had to do with playing for her country.
“To be selected to the Olympic Games (1988 Seoul) that was just fantastic,” Suire said. “So many memories but this one was the best. Steffi Graf won it and I played her in the quarters.”
Suire started playing in some senior events 20 years ago, but has limited time to do so as she coaches youngsters back in Paris. But when she does have the opportunity to come out she considers it a special opportunity.
“It’s for myself,” Suire said. “I enjoy the tennis ball and I need to play for myself, to enjoy making a drop shot, a volley or to serve — just enjoy to be on the tennis court for myself.”
Suire’s third-seeded French team came away with a 3-0 win over Sweden on Wednesday. Suire won her singles match 61 60 over Anna-Carin Mansson.