16 Oct 2017

A Price-less treasure on the Super-Seniors circuit

News Article

By Harvey Fialkov

Photo: Ray GiubiloRita Price (USA)

Rita Price took a bow, blew kisses to the Brazilian fans in the bleachers and showed off some tap-dancing skills. And that was only in the first set of her first-round match in the ITF Super-Senior Individual Championships Sunday at the USTA National Campus.

It’s a shame the clay court muffled her tap-shoe routine, but nothing could muzzle this 91-year-old firecracker’s enthusiasm for tennis and especially life. Price epitomizes the axioms that espouse age is only a number and you’re only as old as you feel.

If that were the case, this effervescent nonagenarian would be 21, but instead of a cellphone glued to her hands, Price would be weilding a tennis racket.

“The three things that drive me are people, my tap-dancing feet and perseverance,’’ Price said in her speech when inducted into the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.

“I fell in love with tennis during the boom in the ‘70s. … Tennis is about character building. You respect your opponent, respect yourself and put fun in it with some tap dancing.’’

Price captured her first national championship title at 79 in the 75s division and became No. 1 in the ITF world singles ranking in 2008 in the 80s. In 2012, Price completed the Golden Slam, winning all four national championships on four different surfaces, and won three more in 2013. Now No 1 in the 90s, she’s one victory away from the Golden Slam in doubles.

Price, born Rita Caputi in Astoria, N.Y., in 1926, was a tomboy, proficient at table tennis, softball, and basketball. But she always danced. At 16, Price along with her stage mother, got into burlesque and vaudeville, touring the country tap-dancing in smoky night clubs filled with shady characters.

“I’m a hoofer, not a hooker,’’ is Price’s favorite tag line.

At 23, she realized that stardom wasn’t in the cards so she returned to high school and eventually earned a Master’s degree in education at then Montclair State (N.J.) which led to a seven-year career teaching high school science.

Marriage and two daughters later, Price moved with her then husband, Dick Price, to Denver, Colo., where she decided at 50 to take up tennis in USTA leagues. At 62, Price entered the world of national tournaments and for the past 16 years has gone global, winning Gold Balls and tournaments in exotic destinations such as Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Tanzania and Austria.

“I sold my house and [possessions] so I could play tennis around the world,’’ said Price, now living in a townhouse apartment in Aurora, Colo.

It was in Austria in 2013 where she was introduced to Darius Panah-Izadi by her longtime doubles partner, Doris Lutz. They won the Super-Senior Mixed Doubles title together and have reunited here in the 85s.

“We clicked. Rita’s character gives her partner the best backing anyone can have,’’ said Panah-Izadi, 89, an Iranian native living in London since 1980. “Everything is fun with Rita. Nobody is grumbling if you miss a ball. The best thing in doubles is to keep your partner’s morale up.’’

Price, who applauds opponent’s winners and actually laughs when she gets passed, still displays a deft touch, mixing in tantalizing drop shots with pinpoint lobs and solid cross-court forehands.

She staved off three set points before dropping the first set 4-6, but dominated the second set 6-1. Instead of playing the 10-point match tiebreak, Price walked to the net, hugged her opponent, Teresinha de Jesus Acioly of Brazil, and retired, claiming her toes were bothering her.

Price showed no signs of fatigue or injury, but said she promised Panah-Izadi she’d be fresh for their late afternoon mixed doubles match.

“My life has been so good. Did you see how happy she was. I’d rather her be happy,’’ said Price, who enjoys an occasional martini. “You have to be kind to each other and laugh all the time.’’

An ambidextrous Panah-Izadi plays with one-hand forehands from each side, but he would’ve needed an extra hand as the cuddly couple went down meekly in their double match.

Not even that could wipe the smile off Price’s face or stop her feet from dancing as she awaited serves.

When she’s not winning Gold Balls she’s entertaining the golden oldies Sunshine Serenaders in Denver, a group of Alzheimer’s patients.

“They don’t know what they had for breakfast but they know all the songs from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s,’’ she said. “I get so much approbation from people. It’s a two-way street. When they smile I get Endorphins.

“Everything in my life is because I’ve met wonderful people. I love this earth and want to stay on it for one or two more years.’’

That premature goal would cheat mankind. After all, this Price isn’t just right, she’s priceless.

NOTE: Remarkably, Price isn’t the oldest competitor in the Super-Senior tournament as Leonid Stanislavskyi of Uraine is 93 years young. He was double-bageled by American Joe Russell in the 85s, and while he spoke no English, Stanislavskyi was gracious enough to give Russell a souvenir ruble (coin).