09 Nov 2017

French connection strengthened by tennis

News Article

By Harvey Fialkov

Photo: Camerawork USAChristine and Paul French (GBR)

It seemed fitting that Paul and Christine French would celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary on a tennis court, first separately and then together, during this week’s ITF Seniors World Individual Championships.

After all, theirs has truly been a 40-year courtship in every sense of the word.

“We met at a tournament when she was 20 and I was 22,’’ said Paul French, 61, a highly respected masters tennis coach in The Queens Club in London, the venerable site of the pre-Wimbledon grass-court tune-up.

“We didn’t date until 10 years later when we were both coaching in the same venue in London.  She returned to the States to teach tennis in Jacksonville,’’ added French, a former Phys. Ed. Teacher who played a few pro Satellite tournaments in his mid-30s.

Christine French picked up the ball and continued.

“I came back 10 years later to be near my ill Dad,’’ said Christine, 58, who reached No. 1 in singles in 2009 and No. 1 in doubles in 2013 in her respective age category. “He was in Liverpool and I was in Somerset, opposite ends of the country. We travelled up and down the motorway for six months, got engaged and married.’’

“The third time was lucky,’’ chimed in Paul.

While tennis is certainly a shared passion, it’s often said that the best way to stay married is to not play doubles together. So far so good as the high-profile British couple won the Seniors World doubles title in Ballen Isles, Fla., in 2014, and a Grade 1 title in Mallorca, Spain last month.

“It’s always me being the tough partner,’’ said Christine, who improved to 250-68 in her Senior career after the third seed cruised past the fifth-seeded Biruta Grinberga of Latvia 60 61 to advance to the 55s’ semifinals in the Crandon Park Tennis Center.

“I can’t tolerate his mistakes because he’s expected to put it away. He plays the best when I’m injured.’’

It was a rough day for one-half of the duo as Paul French lost 63 36 62 to Maxime Buyckx, the fifth seed, who will play second-seeded Pierre Godfroid of Belgium in one 60s’ semifinal at the North Shore Tennis Center.

The other semi pits top-seeded Glenn Busby, who has been ranked No. 1 in the 50, 55 and 60 divisions for nine of the last 11 years, against fellow Aussie 10th-seeded Wayne Pascoe, who upset third-seeded Daniel Waldman earlier this week. 

Busby is on track to win his fourth consecutive World singles title. 

“There’s us and then Glenn. We’re down here and he’s up there at a different level than the rest of us,’’ Paul French said. 

French’s loss was a payback of sort as he had been 3-0 against Buyckx, including a straight-set victory in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Seniors World Championships. In fact, French has yet to win a World singles title, losing the 2016 final to Busby, the 2015 final to Waldman and the 2012 final to Mark Vines. 

When he and Christine won the Seniors World mixed title in 2014, she also won her lone Seniors World singles title by downing American Diane Baker 75 in the third set. 

“She keeps telling me she’s the best player in the house because she won the World championship in singles,’’ Paul French said. “She’s got bragging rights.’’ 

Christine French enjoyed an unexpected reunion this week when she accidentally bumped into Anne Happonen of Finland. The two hadn’t seen each other since their collegiate tennis days together, first at Indian River Community College (now a four-year state college) in Fort Pierce, Fla., and then at Lamar University in Texas more than 30 years ago. 

“We played doubles together in college,’’ Christine said. “We went our separate ways and when I saw her name in the draw I was wondering if it was the same person. Then this person walked past me outside the changing room and I looked at her. ‘Anne?’ 

“She burst into tears and now we’re catching up on Facebook, and hopefully we’ll have a reunion in London. That’s the plan.’’

While Happonen and her partner were ousted in the round of 16 mixed doubles, the Brits joined forces in Crandon Park on their anniversary to advance to a semifinal on Thursday. 

The plan for Paul and Christine is to continue to be partners on and off the court for many years to come. 

“We travel around the world playing tennis. We recently spent two weeks in Mallorca and two weeks here. We love that. It beats working,’’ Paul French said. “We’ve had a few ups and downs. We’ll see [after our next match]. We could be divorced.’’ 

Not likely. This is love, a set and a perfect match.