Photo: Susan MullaneTerri Gaskill's fan club
American Terri Gaskill could likely be one of the few players at the 2014 ITF Seniors World Individual Championships to arrive at the tournament with her own fan club in tow.
There were 23 friends, family and members from the Suburban Club in Pikesville, Maryland where she teaches tennis who traveled on the flight from Baltimore with her on 24 April. And then there were a few other friends or club members who winter in South Florida who joined her cheering section.
“It’s fantastic isn’t it,” Gaskill said. “It’s unbelievable. When I said I wanted to play this tournament they said they wanted to come and when it came time to book the flights no one said no.”
It wasn’t particularly difficult to know who Gaskill's support group were on Monday morning — they made themselves readily known even without clapping and urging her on. The contingent from Baltimore had t-shirts made with bears on it — Gaskill’s nickname is “Ter Bear” — and the slogan on the shirts said, “You Got Served.” And many of them had small American flags that they planted in the grass in front of the court.
“The shirts were a surprise for me this morning,” Gaskill said. “I hope I’ll rest up and be a bear on the court tomorrow too.”
Fortunately for Gaskill her fans didn’t go away disappointed from the City of Palm Beach Gardens Tennis Center as she posted a 60 61 win over Elena Barabash of Russia in the Women’s 45 competition. Of course, Gaskill momentarily rushed her victory, going to the net to shake hands one game shy of the win. But she apologised to Barabash and then finished the match quickly.
“I just totally forgot the score and had it in my mind I already won,” Gaskill said. “And you can’t do that in this game.”
Gaskill’s friends showed their pleasure in her win by forming a receiving line to hug and kiss her in victory.
Gaskill grew up an all-around athlete who favoured basketball, soccer and tennis. When she was 16 she received a scholarship from fellow Baltimore native Pam Shriver to attend a tennis workshop at the WTA headquarters where her evaluation suggested she could play Division I college tennis and possibly the pros. From there she received a full scholarship to James Madison University in Virginia, went on to play some satellite level tournaments and then pursued a teaching pro career.
“I’m a jock and played every sport,” Gaskill said. “I won a junior tournament at McDonough (School), the home of Pam Shriver, and Shriver and her parents ran the tournament and they gave me a scholarship to go to the WTA where they rated me.”
Nowadays, she’s still in touch with Shriver, and Shriver’s mother called her with a good luck message right before she left for this tournament.
Unlike Gaskill, the Women’s 45 sixth-seed Sabine Hekele of Austria had a cheering squad of just one when she went on court at the Mirasol Tennis Club later on Monday afternoon. But that’s all she needed as her support was husband, Peter, who she aptly described as “her everything.”
He kept track of the score, even correcting her along with her opponent Sandra Celin of Argentina when she forgot the score in a game. When Hekele admitted that hot and humid condition were “something us Europeans aren’t used to” her hubby promptly went off to get a refreshing bag of ice to help her cool down.
In the end, and looking quite drenched in sweat, Hekele came through with a 60 63 win despite feeling the pain of South Florida’s heat.
Hekele’s biggest complaint was that she was having trouble serving with the bright Florida sunshine, something that isn’t a problem at home. Of course, her sidekick — a.k.a husband Peter — already had a plan to resolve the problem for her next match: “We’ll train it tomorrow. It’s going to be close your eyes and make your serve,” he laughed.
Hekele comes from near Vienna and is a child psychologist in her day job.
“I was really good as a kid but now I play for fun,” Hekele said. “I just started now with the seniors again when I was 35. Here it’s tough with the climate and I’m not so physically fit. But I’d like to make the quarterfinals.”
And on an adjacent court to Hekele there was good-natured Karen Maddison from Perth, Australia, who could only laugh at her luck of drawing the short straw in the Women’s 40 competition. While Maddison, a mortgage broker by trade, says she’s considered a top quality player in Perth — and even in Australia — for her age group, that just wasn’t going to be enough to go up against third-seeded Sandrine Testud of France, who was ranked No. 9 in the world when she played on the WTA Tour.
When asked about the experience of playing against Testud — the French former star won the match 60 60 — Maddison only presented a positive angle.
“What a privilege,” Maddison said. “I had my family with me until this week and we went to Disney World first and it’s just been a wild ride — the whole thing’s been pretty amazing. I spent more time watching her hit the ball.”