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2017 State Championships

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Inaugural 70s Invitational draws huge praise from players

Over 60 players turned out for USTA North Carolina’s inaugural 70s Invitational at Pinehurst Resort. The two-day event put six teams together, comprised mainly of players who didn’t know any of their teammates. By end of the tournament, there were no strangers in this group anymore.  

Tennis players often get used to who they play with, whether that’s a specific partner or simply a team in general. At the 70s Invitational, players were drafted by six captains at the beginning of the tournament. Names were randomly drawn to put each team together. When it was all said and done, most players had no idea who they had been paired with.

Captaining a team of unknowns isn’t easy. While the 70s Invitational was designed as a relaxed event, players still wanted to come away as champions. Mike Bennett, one of the six captains, figured out his own way of familiarizing himself with his players. He created a questionnaire for his team to fill out upon being drafted.

“I was just thinking what you need to know when you have a new partner. Right-handed, left-handed, which side of the court do you like? Just getting to know your partner,” Bennett said.

For some players, joining a team of strangers may seem a bit daunting. For the players at the 70s Invitational, the opportunity was immediately welcomed. Within minutes of teams taking the courts, players from every team began cheering on their new acquaintances.

That seems to be the nature of tennis. Teams gravitate together. Competitive players want to win, regardless of the scenario. Camaraderie is ingrained in most tennis players’ minds.

Charlotte Gallagher, one of the captains at the tournament, thought the best part was witnessing the constant cheering.

“The biggest joy today is to hear people cheering for their team. In a regular match you have to be quiet. Here you’re able to express that,” Gallagher said. “I didn’t know anyone, and that’s the beauty of why we’re here. I love it. Let’s be friends.”

While Gallagher brought her standard equipment to play with, she also packed an old Wilson Kramer racquet. Captains possessed the power to trade players at the tournament. Gallagher thought requiring a player to hit few serves with a wooden racquet would be a good enough tradeoff for a transaction.

Most players only knew a single player at best on their team. However, one couple couldn’t get away from each other. Steve Seawright and his wife, Sally, came to the tournament together, but they didn’t expect they’d be side by side again on the same court. The Seawrights ended up being drafted onto the same team.

“We haven’t played mixed doubles in 15-20 years. We used to play, but our games started to differ and we stopped playing together,” Seawright said. “There are two things to avoid for a successful marriage: don’t play mixed doubles, and don’t play couples bridge.” The Seawrights went on to win their first match together and showed good chemistry on the court. 

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For the most part, though, the tournament put players in new situations. Players became acquainted by talking about where they live, what club they play out of, etc. Other players found similarities of greater magnitude. Alice White and Anne Booth were paired together for the first match of the morning. White was wearing a sleeve on her arm that assists with a medical condition. Booth instantly recognized the two shared a life-altering event.

“She asked about my sleeve. I have lymphedema, which means my arm will swell up. It’s a result of cancer treatment,” Booth said.

Both Booth and White have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past. White first battled the disease 10 years ago. Booth fought battles with breast cancer 15 years ago, but she suffered a recurrence in 2012.

“I played a match bald as can be. It gets you through to just keep playing,” Booth said. “It may not be my best, but I played.”

Beating cancer wasn’t there only attribute in common. Booth and White were vocal on the court, continuously talking in between points and calling out where to be. Booth said the communication benefited their play. It was obvious the pairing suited each player well, as they were arguably the most vocal players present.

“Just like the Bryan brothers, we talk between every point,” White said. “This is fun. It’s not as serious, of course, we were pretty serious.”

Even though ailments can become more predominant at an older age, tennis players find a way to stay on the court. Lindsay Pratt is playing with two replacement knees and hips (one hip procedure required two surgeries).

Pratt also struggles with his shoulder. He said he’ll probably require a fifth surgery to correct that situation soon. He keeps upbeat despite the injuries, joking about his erratic serve as a result of his shoulder issues. Pratt said what he thinks will be an ace “ends up hitting the net.” But it doesn’t bother him.

“I’ve been back for two years. They nicked a nerve in my knee, so for a while my foot just wouldn’t move right. I was fortunate it came back,” Pratt said. “It’s just so nice to be out hitting tennis balls. They really need something for 70s and up, just because it’s a growing population.”

The players at the 70s Invitational gave a resounding vote of confidence for the tournament’s future. They want the event to continue every year, and most vowed to recruit other players they know in this age group. Expect an event greater turnout in 2015.