None of the participants at the 34th ITF Seniors World Individual Championships were playing for a Grand Slam trophy and million dollar prize cheques — or any prize money for that fact — but that doesn’t make winning the title any less special.
One only needed to see the seventh-seeded Christine French of Great Britain’s reaction to winning the Women’s 55 singles title at Ballen Isles on Saturday to know the importance of becoming the world champion of her age group. It certainly didn’t hurt that French spent a long three hours on court securing her 63 26 75 final win over second-seeded Diane Barker of USA.
It took French, a lanky blonde with her hair tied back into a ponytail, four match points to finally nail down the victory — she had two match points at 5-4 in the third set. She admits to being way too nervous on the first one and couldn’t answer Barker’s serve on the second.
On her fourth match point with Barker serving at 5-6, 30-40 French hit a scorching backhand into the empty deuce side of the court to secure victory.
“It was a great match and she’s a great player, a great champion who keeps coming back at you and you know it,” French said. “I think she got a bit tight, at least I was hoping she was.”
That last backhand executed, French jumped up and raised her hands in celebration. And then she put her head in her hands and started crying. By then her husband Paul, who played in the Men’s 55 and was Christine’s mixed doubles partner in the event, walked out on the court. Still in tears, French fell into Paul’s waiting arms, fatigued and overjoyed with her achievement.
French’s road to champion was demanding of her best tennis. She beat three seeds in three consecutive three-set matches — upsetting top-seeded Carolyn Nichols 46 61 60 followed by fourth-seeded Tina Karwasky 16 62 64, before bypassing Barker.
When asked if she’s now the Queen of three-setters, she laughed, “At least this time I won the first set. The other two I lost it.”
So how will French celebrate her victory?
Following their mixed doubles appointment, the Frenches are heading off for a day at Disney World followed by a five-day visit to the Jacksonville area where she lived for many years.
“I’m hoping to go to Animal Kingdom and then to see friends,” French said, smiling.
In contrast to the Women’s 55 final, the Women’s 35 championship match turned out to be a one-sided outing with former WTA Tour player Angelika Roesch of Germany dominating fifth-seeded Patricia Zerdan of USA 62 60.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning and then obviously I found my game and everything went well,” Roesch said.
Zerdan, who originates from Argentina but moved to the USA to play college tennis, won the first two games. But that was the only statement she was able to make in the match.
The unseeded Roesch, formerly ranked No. 69 during her playing career on the WTA Tour, still maintains her pro game face. During 2002, her best year on tour, Roesch posted three victories over the Top 20 ranked Elena Dementieva, who eventually became a Top 10 regular and Olympic gold medal winner.
From Roesch’s set up for the return — she bounces from foot to foot with great style — to her well placed serve, and the depth and sting of her shots the German was too much for Zerdan to handle. She also played quick so there was no time for an extra breath between points.
“I was asked to play the team matches (last week) so I decided to also try the individual tournament as well,” Roesch said. “It’s a pity there’s not more former players because that would be interesting.”
Roesch came to South Florida with her significant other, Italian Claudio Rudilosso, and their two-year-old son, Phillip. Roesch and Rudilosso have a tennis academy in the Black Forest area of Germany.
“I’m just the babysitter,” said Claudio Rudilosso, a tennis coach. “I used to be a semi-pro but I don’t like it anymore. I don’t like competition anymore and I’m fine with what I did.”
The Men’s 35 singles champion was also decided on Saturday between two players — fourth-seeded Kresimir Ritz of Croatia and fifth-seeded Roberto Menendez-Ferre of Spain —who had ATP Tour experience.
Menendez-Ferre, who had a career high ranking of No. 292 in the pros, came away with a 61 63 victory. He ended the match in grand style with two consecutive aces and dropped to the ground in disbelief.
“I was feeling so good in the match,” Menendez-Ferre said. “It was a good day.”
And when Menendez-Ferre accepted his winner’s memento he took a page from countryman Rafael Nadal’s winning style — he took a play bite out of the round gold medal.
“I did the same,” Menendez-Ferre. “I do it because it’s funny and I’m happy.”
Ritz, who once ranked No. 811, still has an ATP ranking at No. 1247. Although he lost the match he was in great spirits after the match.
“I’m a happy competitor,” Ritz said. “I still have five points on the ATP computer. This year our association was sponsoring our team for the team competition so I said while I’m here why not play the individual competition too. It was a nice challenge for me.
“Everybody was asking me why I was playing the 35s when I’m going to turn 41 at the end of June but I said, ‘Hey, I held my own.”