When Eoin Collins arrived in South Florida to compete in the ITF Seniors World Individual Championships Men’s 45 category it seemed his best shot at a title would be in partnering Jeff Tarango as the seventh seeds in the doubles competition.
That notion fell apart when the second-seeded Tarango — a former top 50 player on the ATP Tour in the early 90s — was upset in the Men’s 45 singles first round. Instead of playing the doubles, Tarango decided to pack up and skip the tandem tournament.
That left the unseeded Collins’ only hope of scoring a title in the singles. So he plotted his course and took it one match at a time. And as luck would have it Collins wore the gold medal on Sunday with a hard fought 36 64 62 final win over fellow unseeded opponent Frank Vermeer of the Netherlands.
“It was a real tough match and he plays a really unusual game that’s fantastic and it was really hard to get used to it,” Collins said. “He was beating me easy but I hung in there and good things come.”
The match was exciting, competitive entertainment for the crowd that formed at PGA National and stayed throughout the three sets. At one point in the latter stages of the match a gasp went through the audience as Collins started to hobble around with cramps.
“About 3-0 up in the third I started to feel it in my legs and by 4-0 it was really bad, but I just decided to play on,” Collins said. “I just hoped it would get better.”
A look around his courtside chair following the conclusion of the match revealed he was not only drinking coconut water but was eating — and drinking the brine — from jars of pickles in an effort to alleviate cramping in the heat.
The Irish-born Collins, who came to the USA at age 17 on a college tennis scholarship from Indiana University, was overjoyed when he won the match, pumping his hands high into the air
He met his wife while at IU and is a dual Irish-American citizen. He decided to play as an American because his son is about to start college as a tennis player for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Collins represented Ireland in Davis Cup and even at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona as a doubles competitor, losing in the second round. He one won Challenger event and attained a career high ATP ranking of No. 461 in the 90s.
These days tennis is just a hobby for Collins. His real job is as a banker for Comerica Bank in Houston.
“I’ve been a banker for the last 20 years,” Collins said. “I manage their large corporate business nationally for seven groups.”
In the Men’s 40 singles fifth-seeded Dutchman Bart Beks went home the winner with a 64 62 victory over Ricardo Mena of Paraguay.
“I’m here already two weeks fighting with the heat and the wind and it’s tough,” said Beks, who had a pile of sweat-soaked socks that he changed during many changeovers. “The big thing is I kept fighting.”
When it came to tennis, Beks was a late bloomer. He started playing tennis at age 12 and only practiced one hour a week until he was 16. After going to university for a degree in econometrics,cs, at age 27 he won the Dutch National Championships and decided he would try his luck on the pro tour, eventually ranking in the Top 200 in the doubles.
Recently, he’s been coaching — Indy DeVroome and Varvara Fink are two young women he’s worked with — but is now looking for someone new to help.
In the Women’s 40 singles competition, former Top 10 ranked Sandrine Testud of France defended her title with a 75 63 win over top-seeded Tzvetelina Nikolova of Bulgaria
The third-seeded Testud trailed 3-1 in the first set, but then settled into the match. It also didn’t hurt that Testud had a number of former players in the gallery rooting for her — fellow French players Karine Quentrec, Sybille Niox-Chateau, Jean-Philippe Fleurian and doubles partner Elisabetta Morici of Italy.
Last year when Testud won the Women’s 40 title she beat Nikolova in the semifinals and Ana Salas-Lozano of Spain in the finals. This year, she beat the second-seeded Salas-Lozano in the semis and Nikolova in the finals.
“It was more difficult this time,” said Testud, who lives in Rome with her family. “The matches was tough especially the semifinals and finals. I’m just glad to make it.”
When the 34th installment of the ITF Seniors World Team and Individual Championships came to its conclusion the event had run for two weeks and took place in a number of venues around Palm Beach County. And the person who was taking a big sigh of relief was Tournament Director Trish Faulkner, not only a former staffer from the WTA Tour and current staffer at Ballenisles, which was one of the sites, but she was also a former ITF Seniors World Champion.
“I think all the players had a great time, all the country clubs were very nice where they played and I’m very happy with the quality of play,” Faulkner said. “It’s about three years of planning ahead of time culminating in two weeks of hard labour but it’s all worth it.”
And there’d be a consensus from all the players that it was worth it, too. For whether you win or lose the tennis community is just that — a community — and renewing past friendships and making new ones is just as special to the participants as playing the game.
So until 2015 when the 35th ITF Seniors World Championships delivers new stories and new winners, there’ll be a whole year of memories made here the past two weeks in South Florida.