First New England Senior Slam is a `Dream’ Come True!

by Laury Hammel

The Dream

In the summer of 2008, Dorcas and Ken Miller were driving to Williamstown, MA to play in the Chaffee-Hart tournament.  Dorcas asked Ken, “What can we do to bring more excitement into senior tennis tournaments in New England?”  From that discussion, a dream was born!   Let’s develop a high level New England senior tennis circuit that would:

·        Attract the top players in New England and bring in players that had previously played tournaments but had stopped, players who played in leagues but not tournaments, and new players who had never played in senior tennis tournaments.

·        Bring all the senior divisions together including both senior men and senior women

·        Play on three different surfaces—hard, clay, and grass courts like the pro grand slams

·        Feature three or four of the top tennis facilities in New England

·        Create a social atmosphere and strengthen the New England senior tennis community

This dream was certainly audacious—some might have said delusional.  The tough questions were easy to identify:  How would you find the appropriate venues for this circuit?   How would you put together a schedule that would meet the multiple needs of the New England senior tournaments and find the right facilities available at the right time?  How will you attract the top players?  How do we make the events special and memorable?

Engineering the Dream

But this quintessential tennis couple would not be deterred by fears of rejection.  They plowed ahead with great vim and vigor. After discussions with members of the Players Committee, it was decided to call the series of tournaments the New England Senior Slams which emphasizes the multi-surface nature of the series. The first major job now became finding the venues that would set the Slams up as top shelf events.  This was challenging because New England has a relatively small number of large multi-court tennis facilities—certainly less than Florida, the South, or California. 

Fortunately, tennis enthusiasts throughout New England stepped up to get the ball rolling.  George Ulrich contacted the head of the facility at Yale in New Haven, Duke Diaz, and it wasn’t long before the NE Slams could call one of the nation’s best hardcourt tennis centers the home of the hardcourt Slam.  Not only is it the home of the Yale Bulldogs Division I Men’s and Women’s teams, but it’s the site of the Pilot Pen Men’s and Women’s Professional Tournament.   The courts are in terrific condition, with excellent viewing, and the Yale Indoor Tennis Center has a large number of indoor courts that are available in case of rain. 

However, the Millers had to get a tournament director for the Hardcourt Slam since the deal with Yale was to lease the facility with the proviso that Yale would not provide the TD.  Jim Purington from USTA/New England suggested Todd Nicholson, who was just the man for the job and fortunately he accepted the offer.

The next step was choosing the clay court venue.  Working with Nigel Bentley and the Concord Country Club in Concord, MA was an obvious choice because he already hosted several senior events that were awarded the `Tournament of the Year’ in 2009 by USTA New England.  However, more clay courts were needed and fortunately the Beverly Golf and Tennis Club operated by the Bass River Indoor Tennis Club was available to add a second facility for the NE Clay Courts Slam. Many successful senior tournaments are held there.   

The grass court venue was the biggest challenge, and this leg of the series almost did not happen. The Millers were discouraged from approaching the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI  because  it was too expensive -- the Millers then contacted the Agawam Hunt Club in RI.  They met with people from Agawam and thought they had a deal but it fell through last September and the Millers had to scramble.   Fortunately they managed to contract with the Hall of Fame at the last moment which was a major breakthrough.  Because of the ambience and its long tennis history, this historic site was ideal in so many ways.  But there remained one major problem --there are only 8 courts available for use.   Not to be deterred, it was decided to add an extra day over the long Labor Day weekend which provided more capacity for this final leg of the NE Slams.

After the venues for the Slams were finally identified, momentum was building for the`Dream’.   Dorcas and Ken were now able to address the remaining details of the New England Slams—scheduling, tournament directors, sponsorships and other fund raising, marketing, social events at the tournament, etc.  Melissa Pride, Director of Marketing at USTA/NE and her associate Meghan Ghovani were very helpful and developed professionally produced flyers that could be posted at clubs throughout NE.  Melissa also provided some prizes to be given away at drawings at the parties.  The ubiquitous Heather Anastos at USTA/NE, as always, was also was very helpful as she supplied balls, single sticks, goody bags and many of the goodies, as well as some great help in publicizing the Slams with league players. Jim Purington at USTA/NE, provided enthusiastic help and support to get the Slam web sites up and running and consistently updated. He also heavily promoted the Slams to players throughout NE.

Sharing the Dream

Finally after nearly two years of searching, strategizing, planning, and organizing, the `Dream’ was becoming a reality and it was time to promote the New England Senior Slam tennis circuit and motivate seniors to re-arrange their summer tennis schedules and actually show up.  Without players there would be no NE Slams and there would be no new New England tennis tradition.  The first Slam was located in New Haven which made attracting large numbers of players a bit problematic because it was such a long distance from the largest pool of senior tournament players located in the Boston area---it basically required them to take the whole weekend and stay overnight.   The flip side, however, is that many excellent CT players not usually seen at NE senior tournaments might register and players from neighboring New York might also decide to join in the fun. 

The Dream Comes to Life!

Fortunately, the “New England Slams” was an idea whose time had come and senior players from throughout New England responded to the call with a total of 110 entries!  Players from every NE state except Maine made the scene and there were many players from out of section; four from NY, one from SC, two from FL and one from Australia!  The first Slam came to life with an exciting set of age group tournaments that were filled with most of New England’s 2009 senior #1 ranked players and a deep field of competitors aiming to knock these top ranked players off their perches.      

Dorcas Wins the First Slam and NE Senior Women’s Singles Struts its Great Stuff

As fate would have it, Dorcas Miller was the first Slams winner when as expected she won the Women’s Senior 70’s on Friday with a solid victory over Joan Nevins, 6-0, 6-3.  The round before, Joan, from Forest Hills, NY and a regular national tournament player, had the most exciting match of the first day defeating Jessie von Hippel from Cambridge in three sets in over three hours.  

 

Womens 70 singles finalist Joan Nevins with assistant TD Matt Fraenza and winner Dorcas Miller

 

Womens 50 singles finalist Polly Edwards and winner Carol Lipnick

 

 

Dorcas came back on Sunday and came excruciatingly close to racking up a second singles title in the Women’s 60’s finals when she lost a hard-fought three-set three-hour match to the first seed Michelle Immler.   This back and forth final featured contrasting styles of play as Dorcas (are you ready for this?) put on an exceptional display of serve and volley tennis!    Some were calling her `Martina Miller’ after her aggressive style of play as she was knocking off volley winners and crushing overheads—pretty darn impressive!   Ultimately, Michelle was able to counter the offense of Dorcas and outlasted her 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

The Women’s 50 singles final held to form as the number one seed Carol Lipnick defeated second seed Polly Edwards (who is developing quite a reputation for chasing down balls forever) 6-2, 6-4 in a fine demonstration of excellent all-court tennis.  Youngsters Carol and Polly were yet another example of how much the NE Senior Women’s game has grown into a strong and deep field of fine competitors. 

Senior Men’s Competition Does Not Disappoint

One somewhat interesting result of the first NE Slam, especially considering the depth of the field in many divisions, was the surprising number of finals featuring the #1 and #2 seeded players with most of the events resulting in the #1 seed coming out on top.  The most anticipated singles final of the tournament was the Men’s 55’s where two perennial number one ranked players were facing off for the first time in many years.  Phil Kadesch was the number one ranked player in the 55’s in 2009 and Wade Frame had just moved up to the 55’s and was eager to add another Gold Disc to his growing jewelry collection (It is a tradition that former NE #1 Ned Weld began many years ago where NE #1 players are awarded a Gold Disc at the International Tennis Hall of Fame).   The pre-match build-up was justified as the large crowd of tennis fans who were lucky enough to witness this classic match-up were not disappointed.  These two fine athletes competed at an exceedingly high level of aggressive serve and volley tennis with shot-making that was astonishing and worthy of their vaunted reputation.   Wade jumped out to an early lead with a solid first set, but Phil stormed back with an early break in the second set.  Despite some Herculean efforts by Wade to break serve, Phil was able to hold on and close out the second set which set up the dramatic third set to determine the 55’s Hardcourt Slam champion.  Wade got an early break and, based on his consistent holding of serve throughout the match, it appeared he would hold on and pull off the minor upset.  However, Phil, always the tenacious competitor, hung in, broke back and finally was able to close out the match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5—an entertaining and excellent example of the high quality of NE senior tennis.

Simultaneous to this match on an adjacent court was another barn-burner in the making in the Men’s 50 Singles.  Number two seed Harlan Stone was able to pull off a minor upset over the first seed Bill Previdi  in a match filled with exceptional shot-making and replete with mini-comebacks and missed opportunities.  The outcome of the match was in doubt until the very last point, but in the end it was Harlan who walked off the court with the victory 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.   It did take them a while to actually walk off the court, though, as they were both drenched from the great hustle and clearly exhausted, and remained on the court for a while chatting and preparing for the long walk to the tournament desk to accept their well-deserved prizes. 

 

55 singles winner Phil Kadesch with finalist Wade Frame

 

65 singles finalist Walt Sadowski with winner Bob Dunlop

Jim Purington with 60 singles winner Laury Hammel and finalist Rich Klaffky

 

Even considering the hotly contested 50 and 55’s finals, the most dramatic match of the tournament was the Men’s 65 finals that ended in a Tie Break in the third set.    Unseeded Bob Dunlop pulled the biggest upset as he ousted the number one seed, Walt Sadowski, in a titanic battle 6-2, 2-6, 7-6.   The equity of play was so consistent in the third set, that if there had not been a Tie Break, the match might have gone on to 75-73, who knows? 

The Men’s 60’s Singles was an event filled with several well-known and respected Baby Boom competitors that after some fine matches, resulted in the number one seed Laury Hammel winning his second 60’s NE tournament this spring.  Laury played the number two seed, Rich Klaffky, in the finals. The first set was tight and could have gone either way.   Laury was serving at 3-4 and then stepped it up and won most of the remaining key points which enabled him to win the final nine games and close out the match 6-4, 6-0.   

The Men’s 70 Singles also had some interesting matches. In the semis, doubles legend Whitey Joslin took top seed George Lynch to three sets before succumbing.  In the finals, number two seed Roy Anderson upset Lynch 6-2, 6-2.

Senior players under 75 always look to the players in the older divisions for inspiration and encouragement—“If they can play like that at their age, then by God, I want to be doing that when I’m in my late seventies or eighties.”   One of the wonderful aspects of the NE Slams is having all age divisions in the same tournament and in this first Slam, the older seniors did not disappoint.  In the Men’s 75 Singles the number one seed Bill Schmid played outstanding tennis to upend Charles Morris 6-2, 6-4.  In the Men’s 80 Singles number one seed Marvin Sears outlasted David Ragone 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in a two-hour plus match and then followed that up by dispatching Brad Purcell 6-1, 6-1 in the round robin format to emerge as the first NE Senior Slams winner in the 80’s division. 

 

The 80s singles players

           At left, 80 singles players Brad Purcell, finalist David Ragone and winner     

           Marvin Sears.

 

 

 

 

   

Senior NE Doubles is Alive and Well

New England Seniors have had great success in recent national team competitions and witnessing first-hand the quality of doubles at the first NE Slam was impressive.   Many commented that the highlight of the doubles competition was the semi-finals of the Men’s 55 Doubles which was forced to go indoors on Saturday afternoon.  Inside this fantastic indoor facility, the number one seeds Phil Kadesch and Wade Frame put on quite a show squeaking by the unseeded team of Kevin Fisher and Richard Makepeace in a an exciting 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 battle.    Wade and Phil gave the number one seeds another victory and won the gold by beating the unseeded team of Tom Darby and Robert Milligan 6-2, 6-2 in the finals. 

Mens 55 doubles winners Wade Frame and Phil Kadesch with finalists Tom Darby and Bob Milligan

Mens 80 doubles finalists Marvin Sears and Irving Levine with winners Bix Shoemaker and Gerald Smith

Mens 70 doubles winners Roy Anderson and Whitey Joslin with finalist Ken Miller and Ray Brodeur

Mens 50 doubles finalists Anthony Ditullio and Jan Dembinski with winners Harlan Stone and Jonathon Bates

 

The Men’s 80 Doubles featured several New England legends in the round robin format.  Bix Shoemaker and Gerald Smith ended up with the gold by defeating Irving Levine and Marvin Sears 6-1, 6-1 and then completing the sweep by ousting David Ragone and Homer Scoville 6-1, 6-2.

In the Men’s 70 doubles, the number one seeded team of Roy Anderson and Whitey Joslin bested the number two seeds Ken Miller and Ray Brodeur 6-3, 6-1.

In the Men’s 50 Doubles the first seeds Harlan Stone and Jonathon Bates gave Harlan two golds as they beat the number two seeds Jan Dembinski and Anthony Ditullio 6-1, 6-2.  The Men’s 60 Doubles ended up with the number one seeds Walt Sadowski and George Ulrich beating the pickup team of John Nicholson (TD Todd Nicholson’s father) and Frank McDonald (the “mate” from Australia) 6-3, 6-2.

In the Women’s 50 Doubles the number one seeded team of Carol Lipnick and Sarah Young lived up to their seed by defeating Martha Decker and Carita Kurth in the finals 6-2, 6-2.  In Women’s 60 Doubles  Ruby Curtis and Carolyn Fournier won the gold by defeating Jessie Von Hippel and Judy Smith in the finals 6-3, 6-2. 

Womens 50 doubles winners Carol Lipnick and Sarah Young with finalists Martha Decker and Carita Kurth -- Jim Purington congratulated them

Mens 65 doubles winners George Ulrich and Walt Sadowski with finalists Frank McDonald and John Nicholson

Womens 60 doubles winners Carolyn Fournier and Ruby Curtis with finalists Judy Smith and Jessie von Hippel

 

The Player Party Rocked!

The player party on Friday night was a big winner with no unforced or forced errors-- delightful food, fun prize drawings, and most important an excellent opportunity to be with fellow men and women competitive tennis players from all age divisions-- some who are fairly new to competitive tennis and others who have been fighting in the tennis wars since the days of Abraham Lincoln.  Last check, none of the senior tennis players present are living off of their prize money earnings, and the motivation for aging athletes to continue to compete and earn a ranking includes staying healthy and fit, keeping the competitive juices flowing, old-fashioned pride, adding to the collection of tennis stories, and for many, the most important, hanging out with old and new friends.  Hanging out and watching a bevy of dramatic matches while clapping and commenting on the extraordinary tennis was a beautiful thing!

Good fun at the party!

Great desserts too!

Phil Kadesch wins Pilot Pen tickets!

More good fun at the party!

 

A Dream Come True

The first NE Slam lived up to its promise, and New England is lucky to have so many tennis players willing to give back.  TD Todd Nicholson, along with assistant TD Matt Fraenza and umpire Tom Fayed, did exceptional jobs running the first NE Slam, and there were many others who deserve a round of applause and appreciation for their good work. 

The NE Slams even has a program that is an attractive printed memento for players.  The winners and runners-up of each division received attractive and specially-designed NE Slam gold and silver medals formed in the shape of the USTA/New England logo that can be worn around the neck like an Olympic medal. 

It was the big things and the little touches (like the cookies and brownies that Amy Read brought for the players every afternoon) that all contributed to a highly successful first NE Slam and made the New England Senior Slams such a special ‘Dream Come True’.   Even as you read this report, seniors throughout New England are honing their drop shots in preparation for the next Slam—the Clay Courts Slam—it will be a good one! 

Speaking for all participants and with deep appreciation we congratulate the `Dream Team’ of Ken and Dorcas Miller who have definitely earned the number one ranking in senior tennis in New England in the division of `Making a Difference’.  Thank you both!   

   
 

 

TD Todd Nicholson with Ken and Dorcas Miller