Photo: Susan MullaneTaras Beyko (CAN)
When it comes to the Men’s 45 singles competition at this week’s 34th ITF Seniors World Individual Championships, Taras Beyko is the guy that all the players are gunning to beat.
And for good reason. Beyko, a 46-year-old who plays for Canada, is the No. 1 ranked player in the 45-and-over category. On Wednesday, Beyko moved onto the quarterfinals via a competitive 64 62 win over 11th-seeded Carl Clark of the USA.
A number of potential future opponents for Beyko this week stopped by for a glance at the match after either their match was over or they were still waiting to play. The consensus was unanimous: Beyko is without a doubt the fittest guy out there.
But don’t ask him to concur with that opinion.
“I wish I’d be in better shape,” Beyko said. “It’s important in senior tennis to be fit, the most important thing I would say.”
“I’m tired and he makes you work,” said Clark, also concluding that Beyko is an incredible player. “I thought I was too, and I am, but he does a good job of not giving me any pace, not hitting hard but being effective.”
Beyko, a native of Kiev, Ukraine, started playing tennis when he was nearly 11, following his sister to the courts. Prior to that it was all football and he thinks that’s the perfect athletic route to tennis.
“Soccer is very good for the footwork and I didn’t have any trouble immediately putting balls over the net,” he remembered. “In two-three weeks I could hit the ball 100 times, no problem. And junior tennis it’s most important to put the ball back and after four months of playing I was No. 3 in the City Championships.”
Beyko moved to Montreal in 1996 to study at McGill University and he never went home. Today, he’s still at McGill where he teaches tennis to all variety of players from the students to the professors.
While Beyko is thus far having a smooth road through the Men’s 45 draw, away from tennis he is going through some anxious times. His relatives — mom and dad, and his sister to start - are back in Ukraine where the political climate is heated. He’s maintained just the weekly phone calls, but there are frequent emails going back-and-forth.
“It’s a very tough situation,” Beyko said. “(Russin President Vladimir) Putin is making a lot of troubles for everybody, not only the Ukraine — the whole world. People are worried and anxious about what might be next. It takes a lot of attention from me, because I have to think about it every day because the situation in the Ukraine is not stable.”
But here in South Florida Beyko’s biggest concern is the hot and humid conditions that have overtaken the area the last few weeks.
“I thought it would be easier,” Beyko said. “I came here early, the previous week. I think in the practice I handle it easier than the matches.”
But not to worry, Beyko had a very professional operation to conquer the heat. He arrived at the match with an ice chest filled with assorted cool drinks and neck cooling devices.