Our very own Jo-Anne Williamson was elected to represent Ireland at the Junior Veteran Championships 2018 in Miami. Here is an insight into life on the tennis tour.
Greetings from Miami!!! …..Gathered by the beach just before the Sun went down was the ideal setting for the opening ceremony of the world team championships here in Miami. With the temperature gauge in and around 28° we were all but melting? Everyone was feeling in high spirits & although a little concerned for the days play to follow, we held our flags high and smiled for photo after photo- great memories to have for all ?
The surface here (green clay) forces us to play in a manner we’re unused to! slower game with light balls and high bounces- not exactly winter league on wet courts in usually cold temperatures!! What lies ahead daily is a challange against surface, weather and players of an extremely high standard- some of whom have played the professional tour! Quite the experience and rather a big challange to put a win on the board!
Day 1s play was tough on everyone. A mixture of excitement and fear sweeping across the pale faced Irish, out we went with the rise of the Sun. With temperatures set to hit the 30s and the locals here telling us it was getting cooler, we were unsure of what our biggest challange would be! As it turns out we had some great matches and a few unlucky falls at the final hurdle! The men’s 35s and 40s getting an extra day to climitise, the 45s men had to face a very strong side from the Netherlands- the Irish came second!!
The womens 35s & 40s faced a confident, experienced Sth Africian side. The 35s & 40s were unlucky in going down in their No 1 singles in the 3rd set, the heat being the deciding factor really. Both teams were unfortunate that playing at mid day gave the opposition the edge. The 45s (myself included) faced the heavy hitters from the U.S.
With huge groundstrokes being thumped from the baseline and pinpoint rally balls running my teammates from side to side it was a formidable task for us! Not our day in the sun so to speak! myself and my partner took to the court looking to enjoy the experience and go out fighting! And fight we did! getting ourselves to a third set, the possibility of taking an American scalp that had seemed so far fetched was suddenly not so much of a pipedream…… I’d love to tell you that the day ended well but it was not to be! Experience from the American duo gave them a quick lead in the third and left us playing catch up. A smart change of tactics threw us off and while we were still delighted with the score line our dream ended at 6-2 in the third. Self belief & experience are big factors when you’re facing opponents who’ve played at such a high level for so long….. The strokes are there, the fitness could have been better, the heat was slightly more tolerable as our match was long and one of the last on court we had the pleasure of a cooler third set under lights. Perhaps it will aid us in what awaits us in round 2…. Germany….. always a huge challange!
Day 2 saw a slightly bruised but still smiling Irish contingent head out in cooler temperatures to take on 3 German sides, Chile, Great Britian & Sth Africia. The 35 ladies faced a determined German side and wasted no time in showing our girls that they weren’t here for a holiday! 3-0 came around quickly, the 40s girls singles vs the long legged Brits followed suit leaving the doubles with a big ask. A hard fought second set after having adjusted to the pace saw them bow out with a 6-2 6-4 loss. The 40s men battled long and hard and were pipped at the post in the 2ns singles with Cronan McNamara putting in a valiant effort but going down 6-4 6-4.
Having being given inspiration from the cooling breeze the mens 40s doubles combo of Reidy & McCann saw off the Sth Africian pair bringing Irelands 1st (but not last) point! 2-1 to Sth Africia.
The afternoon sessions didn’t get any easier on the dirt but with a more “Irish ” temperature the cooler 22° helped ease the pain! The 35s men and 45s woman faced grim prospects with stepping on court with the Germans. Always facing a formidable task the singles rallies showed how we were becoming a little more comfortable with the bounce, slide & wait tactics needed- however perhaps not comfortable enough yet- the matches with games being won, went to the German sides.The Germans took both ties 35s mens and 45s womens.
Stepping up with a new partner myself for the doubles- we couldn’t complain about the beautiful breeze that seemed to be more to our liking then the 6ft 2 lady blocking off 3/4 of the court! With a mixture of tactics and heavy spun balls to the baseline- which saw myself & Heidis 5ft 5 frames pinned at times to the fence, the German pair took an easy first set. Going in to the second set we settled marginally & much like the 40s girls vs the Brits , we found a pace change and got stuck in! A few unlucky, breeze assisted volleys saw the set float away & a 6-4 loss sadly followed.
However, the best was saved for last! Heros of the day came in the shape of northern monster Hans Erickson & Munster machine Robert Cummins. After rain (Yes in Miami) delayed play- clearly our 45s men meant business! The Sth Africian team did not expect the storm that was coming their way! After 12 set points Cummins takes the set and pockets the match. Clearly not to be outdone, Hans battles away to a 7-5 in the 3rd set epic victory!!! Unfortunately the doubles went to the yellow & greens but a 2-1 team victory to the 45s men was enough to put smiles in all the Irish eyes?
Today sees the last of the group matches & decides the path forward for our teams. In groups of 3 the teams come through with the possibility of finishing with a higher ranking. For those of us in groups of 4- today is D day. Aiming to avoid coming last in the group is first and foremost and yet still a HUGE ask! But battle we will and as we keep being told “sure it’s winter here now, much more suitable for you to play in” how kind of them to lower the playing temperature to 28°….. how rude of us not to appreciate it???
It’s probably quite hard to grasp the reality of the days here when I’m sending results of matches and snip bits on players and weather! To give just a slight insight into a few of the players that some if us are facing on a daily basis here’s a few points to note…..
The teams coming through in the top 4 in each age group are mostly the same countries…
USA, France, Great Britain and Spain. Germany & the Netherlands coming in 5/6 too.
Having spoken at length to some of the players it’s evident that the weather conditions and the change of surface are but minor details that make our battles here so difficult. Most of the players in all age groups have played the pro tour at some point with some even still playing the senior pro tournaments across the circuit. Several of team GB and the Spanish & US sides have players that have played within the top 50 in the world! Bring that in to perspective with the fact that our own Conor Niland was ranked at highest within the top 300.
Even speaking with players who are not full time tennis heads, they tell me they’d put in perhaps 10-14 hours a week on a normal basis and in preparation for this they’d be looking at 20+ hours of ball hitting outside of a physical program. Does the rest of the world have longer days & weeks then us?? Obviously not but they do have a lot of indoor facilities which seams to be the norm! Tennis in Ireland needs to step out of the dark ages!!
That’s why perhaps yesterday was such an amazing day- it belonged to the women of the hour and came in the shape of 40s captain Grainne O Donoghue & Louise D’arcy along with my own fellow team mates Catriona Wilkinson & the feisty Galway gal (but limerick based) Deirdre Collins. With 4 extremely varied style matches,the girls put in between them over 120 games & over 10 hours on court. In a cooler 26° & 65% humidity that’s a mean fete!! Each came out with a momentous victory which helped the ladies 40s and 45s to wins over their oppositions Chile (2-1) & Sweden (3-0)
This means both teams will play off today for places 9-12. Mental toughness and resilience seemed to push these players over the finish line and with a “No fear-no regrets” approach the players dug deep & battled at some points to beyond sanity. I’d have to tell you, sitting courtside with Deirdre Collins through an epic match left me emotionally exhausted and tears freely flowed at the shake of hands from relief- only thing was the tears were from me not the player….. perhaps the sun is affecting my usual calm exterior or perhaps indeed I’m human?
With these ties in hand and a look across the board at the rest of team Irelands results, the wins were limited but the spirits are still high and with most players volunteering that they feel there’re playing good tennis and enjoying the daily challenge we begin the play off stages. Tomorrow night brings around the Gala dinner which is usually well attended & somewhere the Irish shine ?the strong bonds of friendship, comaradery and fun bring the Irish team in to pole position and with the theme of “80s tennis” my flat groundstrokes might finally be worthwhile?
On a slightly different note, one time world no.1 Arancha Sanchez-vicario made an appearance in support of the Spanish team. Always with an Irish connection somewhere- her best friend (and former coach with me in lower Aghada tennis club) Maydes Abad is married to one time top 40 player Juan Alberto Viloca, who is playing in the men’s 45s team. She popped in to Flamingo park tennis centre today and got a snap with the Irish ? sure why wouldn’t she??
Today sees the last of the matches for some of us. The womens 40 & 45 teams have earned finishing the week a day early. Having played 6 days straight we’re all looking forward to a lie in and being able to watch from the finals side lines. With most of our teams playing off for places 9 through to 18, it’s still all to play for. Every match carries with it a new challange. The hard hitters are usually at the top of the groups so now it comes down to the long haul. A lot of long, push ball tennis begins and as it’s the end of the week exhaustion has set in. I myself am feeling more comfortable on the court and the heat is only a mere challenge now but the days are long and the nights are early. For those of you who think this is some sort of tennis holiday- think again! An early rise at 6.30am daily causes an early night for all. Tuesday took a lot from all my team as long matches lead to a late finish only coming off court at 10.30pm-just in time for bed? I’ve heard whispers from home of tales of late nights & partying- simply a myth- I wish we had the energy for such shinnanigans! Faced with the prospect of sitting court side with your team mates supporting, let alone playing in this heat is daunting enough! Suffice to say, glamourous it ain’t!
With some of the players staying for the individual tournament next week the place has new buzz to it. We feel at this point veteran vets! I could only imagine how lonely and difficult the tour must be!
On the results front the men’s 35s had a good day at the office yesterday?taking on Costa Rica,after a tricky start with the first match going against them , northern basedJohnny Abosi was down the first set & battling hard. He found himself 5-2 down in the 2nd but he wasn’t done! Each point was 15-20 shots. Having saved 2 match points one of which included a fortunate net cord that just dropped over & inside the tramline. He drove to win the second set 7-5. Building on the momentum, he played brilliantly against a very solid Costa Rican to take the third 6-3 in a flurry of well constructed groundstrokes. The combo off Frank O Keefe & Mick Hurley took the Costa Ricans by surprise and the boys in green stormed to victory! The 35s is a very difficult age group as a lot of the players are just getting their feet wet after they pro tour. The power and physical fitness of this bracket both male and female is all to be seen to be believed! At last a saving grace for not being SO YOUNG anymore ??
In our own matches we went down to Australia 2-1
Having played the singles (yes me!!! ) I simply found my strokes were on parr with my slightly younger opponent but my impatience & fitness let me down hugely! The realisation (yet again) that the singles court holds different challenges to the doubles one, will sink in at some point over my life- hopefully I can wait another year to discover this though. Money through bribery having now being offered to the team captain for my place back on the trammed safety of a doubles court – I’ll let you know how that works out as we take on Argentina later this afternoon ?last matches and all that I’m hoping to go out on a high with my partner- there’s definitely safety in numbers for me? good luck to all the Irish sides as the week draws to a close. Let’s hope some Irish luck kicks in to bring us all to the finish line.
It’s all done and dusted and some Irish bodies have taken flight and left already for the green green grass of home. The last day of play for the ladies on Thursday allowed for a few cocktails at the gala dinner that night. The temperature in the low 30s and the matches pace changed to long, drawn out rallies one would have thought the matches would get easier as the group stages were done. Unfortunately the high ball, spin game with no speed was infuriating to play and mental toughness was in high demand. Dehydration, exhaustion, physical exertion never mind texhnical & tactical prose – all rates elements are in demand on a daily basis with some good results pulling through for some. The 35s men and women took down What turned out to be a Turkish delight! Lena O Connor showed the beautifully well presented Turkish girls what getting down and stuck in Irish style ment. Trailing 5-2 in the second and fighting back to a tie break tiredness kicked in and Lena was trailing 5-1. One well thought out 20 shot rally went in the favour of the captain and using smart tactical play Lena broke down her opponent and with a determined fist pump it was all over leading the way to a 2-1 victory. In much of similar style the 35s men not to be outdone followed suit and bagged their tie with a few hot moments and umpires called to court side. It’s something we don’t understand or deal with well. Any ball within a sniff of the line requires a long lingering look, followed by a circle followed by a brush of the mark. If you don’t follow this protocol you’re simply not playing clay court tennis. The umpires are readily available to “read the mark” they can tell the direction, spin and sit of the ball and also the freshness of it. If you’ve the wrong mark- they know straight away, if there’s no mark then tough! All very straight forward & professional and for us inexperienced Irish it’s a whole new ball game! I like it albeit my playing for the lines becomes unforgivable as more often then not my mark is no where close!
I was hugely thankful of finishing play on Thursday as the body had begun the long downward spiral- there’s only so much dialorite and Nurofen that can be consumed over a 10 day period. The ladies 45s have been hugely lucky as the way our matches fell meant every morning was recoup time with a quick dip followed by the required supporters club by any Irish matches being played in The Flamingo park tennis centre. I felt a familiar feel to the club the other day and a flash back (& a quick call to my mum) confirmed by suspicion….30 odd years ago I played in this venue! After attending Nick Bollitterri tennis academy I played the Orange Bowl junior world championships. That year the winner was a Swiss lad by the name of Mark Rossett. Others wielding the title Mary jo Fernandez, Anna Kournikova, Jim Courier….. it reads like a who’s who of tennis- how amazing to have played on the same courts as these players. Again it’s interesting to see the nationalities that come to the fore Americans, Germans, French…. we simply can’t compete until we become practiced and trained on surfaces other then astro turf!! The game has so many levels – I’ve been asked more then a few times this trip why Ireland don’t look to host the worlds??? Come on Tennis Ireland give us a chance ?a cold windy day with wet tennis balls should be levelling e nough to see the French and Spanish sides flounder e ven slightly, giving us a fighting chance. Imagine trying to explain to a baffled French side that yes we play in the rain- after all its only drizzling- a wee bit ⛈?
End results for the ladies 45s was a 2-1 defeat to Argentina, the ladies 40s a 2-1 loss to Sweden, the 45 men a loss to Chile, the 35s men a loss to Argentina and the 35s men a defeat to Turkey.
All in all what thoughts do I leave Miami Beach with….. mixed feelings really….. It’s been yet again an amazing experience. Filled with tough matches, some laughs, some tears, many blisters, dioralyte, Nurofen, motillium ….. a bit of shopping, contrary to the belief of some sitting on Irish isles there was seldom a glass of vino to be had– players opting for the cool iced water bottles instead. We’re taking in a basketball game tonight with a bit of shopping tomorrow before hitting the run way tomorrow evening. Adieu Miami will I be back….. who knows , better start saving now!!! Thanks to all my team mates for the fab time and to the lovely, generous members and friends of Ballinlough and Lwr Aghada tennis clubs for making this all possible. So long for now, yours in sport
Miami Junior Vets Championships 2018 Final Blog
My final thoughts and words from the World Championships 2018 in South Beach, Miami and then the chapter closes for another year and the information gathered will go towards improving our plan for the next challange!
Miami is but a distant memory, getting further and further away from the reality of Irish life and as the rain thumps down in sheets outside, it’s not followed by the promise of glorious sunshine and the small swimming pools now forming on the astro turf outside, confirm my suspicion – there’ll be no tennis for us today!
The difficulty of controlling the weather Gods plays havoc with ones coaching career along with the added dent it puts in ones training schedule from month to month.
For the majority of the players that we played in Miami – this is of small part something that rarely enters their mind. Great Britain being our closest of neighbours and living with marginally similar weather, you’d think their challange would lie in some part the same path as ours. Unfortunately as a small breakdown, would you believe that out of some 200 odd tennis facilities in the London area- over 60 have access to indoor play with a good percentage of these being on the basis of pay as you go. The cold hard facts are that in all of Munster – there is one! I don’t mean one facility hosting 20 fabulous courts, ready to train our future stars along with the seniors and aged veterans but I mean 1 court! Privately owned, the proprietor is very generous with the outsourcing on request – form an orderly queue folks as winter is here!
This day two weeks ago we were basking in the glorious sunshine, sweltering in the humidity and waiting in the wings to take on the formidable United States. What lay ahead was a mixture of excitement, fear, enthuasium and regret!
Regret? Yes…. I wish I’d played more, trained more, prepared more…… but here it was the moment of truth, quite simply put – were we good enough?
Did we process the tools to build a game to suit the surface?
Did we have the physical ability to push ourselves beyond our pain threshold to stay for the long haul of the match?
Did we hold the mindset to get us over the line in the tight points should they come?
Yes , yes we did! I saw it! I saw my team mates dig deep, so deep I actually shed tears! I witnessed determination, professionalism, dedication & that was just from the support! We had some close matches in all age groups and proved that we deserved to be standing at the opening ceremony hoisting the Irish flag high with pride but now our question lies with the tricolour – what can Ireland do for us?
23 smiling Irish flew over 6,000 k to the sunshine state, pennies saved, work on hold and put on a brave fight. Challenges with weather and playing surface were always a known factor, what in one way was unknown was that we could perform! Perhaps it was the “rise to the occassion ” syndrome but we Irish can play!
I’m not suggesting that we’ll be holding the title in the immediate future but perhaps if a few more opportunities came our way to practice on the correct surface or even something similar then I feel a good amount of those matches would hold tighter scorelines and who knows maybe the “luck of the Irish” would guide one or two over the line!
To be selected the players results from the Irish open, indoors, closed and the interprovincial series are considered. Unfortunately none of these tournaments are held on clay, which is the favoured surface of the world competitions. With more clubs throughout the capital progressing and laying a new clay surface ,it will hopefully help us to become “slightly ” more of a threat should we get the opportunity to train on them. It’s close to impossible to replicate the weather conditions that we play our matches in but if we could practice more on clay throughout the year it would give us “fighting Irish” a fighting chance. The feedback from most teams is the same! We need surface practice giving us time and knowledge of how to play the surface, learn to slide, feel how our footwrk patterns rhythm adjusts to the height of the ball. Lord knows footwork is hard enough without adding the “dirt” under your feet.
I loved the experience, perhaps one of the best representative experiences I’ve had. What made it so good?? This trip with its split venues for certain age groups had a very professional feel to it. Early to bed and early to rise is not just a phrase! With the matches staggered into two time slots daily- 8am & 2pm starts- devided the ranks. With most age groups trying to get to the clubs to support each other where possible, the camaraderie was admirable! With other tournaments I’ve played in, all matches were finished by 5pm leaving the late afternoon for recreation or recovery! This time felt a lot more like how the tour would feel. Sharing rooms to save costs, looking to source the most reasonable venue for meals and each day leaving with more knowledge for the next!
I couldn’t have travelled this year without the fund raising carried out by two Cork clubs I like to call home. Ballinlough and Lower Aghada made it possible (& almost guilt free) for me to take the time from work and family life and transport myself into the tennis tour on the most amazing trip. My appreciation ,I hope, will come through in the knowledge I can now pass on in abundance. Questions and comments that have come my way so far are “was it amazing?” “How did you deal with the heat” but the best one came from a 7 year old who ran to the court for her weekly session shouting ” yeahhh she’s back, she’s back, did you win the world??” Worried I’d disappoint her if I went in to too much detail I replied “we won some and we lost some but I played well” Hoping this would suffice, her reply was eye opening “well that’s brill cos the world is a LOT to take on” and she’s right! The world is a lot to challange and the best preparation we can do would be to have our teams announced a little sooner giving us more time to experience a surface change. Allow the teams use of any clay court facilities free of charge once they’ve been picked – surely they’d do this for senior teams?
If clubs like Lwr Aghada and Ballinlough get behind their players the daunting financial burden could be somewhat relieved!
Even if Tennis Ireland funded the small irish souvenirs each captain must give to each country they play, it would be a drop in the ocean!
With Santa lists being prepared as we speak I make my SMALL requests with tongue in cheek-
Dear Tennis Ireland,
My name is Jo-Anne and I’ve been a very good girl this year. I was hoping you could allow some of the clubs in Munster to have a roof as the constant wind and rain are stopping me from playing my favourite sport.
I was also wondering if the Vets international teams could have some help with funding as it’s an amazing experience that is very expensive and my piggy bank is nearly empty!!
Lastly dear Tennis Ireland I’d like to say thank you for the opportunity to represent my country and I hope I did you proud and if you could manage to sneak in a better second serve for me, I think my partner would be very grateful too!