NET GAINS Se­nior Ten­nis Champs

Court­side with ten­nis cham­pi­ons, lessons from the coun­try's best at age 65 (and older)


The first thing you no­tice about cap­tain Ed Marcelo is how young he looks. He is very tan and trim, still has his black hair. He is a small, wiry man ra­di­at­ing good health. “I can’t be­lieve you’re 77,” I tell him. “It’s the ten­nis,” he says. “It keeps me in shape. We prac­tice two hours, three times a week. Ev­ery week. Even in sum­mer.”

We had met this year at The Land­ings (Yacht, Golf and Ten­nis Club) in Fort My­ers to dis­cuss his United States Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion Adult 65 & Over Men’s Na­tional Cham­pi­onship Team. Marcelo, orig­i­nally from the Philip­pines, is cap­tain of the team that had played at the Hide­away Coun­try Club in Fort My­ers and took lessons from its pro­fes­sional, T.A. Niles. “Tell me how you put your team to­gether?” I ask Marcelo.

The coun­try’s best am­a­teur team in its divi­sion, he tells me, con­sists of him­self, Steve Ro­maine, Richard Fell, Thomas Martin, Masahiro Ku­mamoto, Nile Evans, Robert Bachula, Ti­mothy McClary and Larry Blohm. Only six may play dou­bles ten­nis at any given time in three dif­fer­ent matches. The cap­tain de­cides who plays and against what op­po­nents. The team won 14 of 15 matches at the Sec­tional in Daytona Beach, and from there won at the USTA Na­tional Cham­pi­onship in Sur­prise, Ari­zona, in March 2015.

A great sur­prise of my life was Marcelo invit­ing me to his Cape Co­ral home to hit ten­nis balls. With some trep­i­da­tion, I went the next morn­ing, dressed for ten­nis. “I don’t sup­pose you have a ba­nana?” I ask him upon ar­rival. “I am cramp­ing up a bit and need some phos­phates.”

“It’s cal­cium,” he tells me―Marcelo was

Just block the ball. You don’t have to hit it. Just block it.” —Ed Marcelo, Cape Co­ral

ten­nis cham­pion

a phar­ma­cist be­fore re­tir­ing in 1992.

Be­fore we get to hit the ball around, Marcelo in­sists on tour­ing his im­pres­sive Cape prop­erty. It is a gor­geous day, not too hot and there is a wind blow­ing off the river. Even­tu­ally we got back to his courts. “We will do some drills,” he says. “You stand near the net, and I will feed you some balls.”

“I have never done a drill,” I say, hav­ing in seven years not taken a les­son, let alone drill with a player of Marcelo’s cal­iber.

I take a de­fen­sive stance close to the net. From the base­line, Marcelo starts hit­ting me balls. I am pretty ath­letic and not a bad ten­nis player, so I am able to re­turn about 50 per­cent of his shots pretty ef­fec­tively. But I swing and miss a lot, too. “You don’t have to swing!” he in­structs me.

“I don’t vol­ley too much,” I re­ply, apolo­get­i­cally, af­ter we have run through the first bas­ket of balls.

In a soft but au­thor­i­ta­tive voice, he says, “You are not stand­ing in the right place and you are swing­ing too much at the ball,” show­ing me ex­actly where to stand, how to use my racket. “See? Just block the ball. You don’t have to hit it. Just block it.”

About this time, Steve Ro­maine, an old sail­ing buddy of mine and mem­ber of the cham­pi­onship team, shows up, ready to hit some balls. Things get even more ex­cit­ing as we move around, near the net and at the base­line, strik­ing the ball at each other and go­ing through a num­ber of drills. You could see Steve has a lot of power and is a bit of a bomber, while Ed plays the per­cent­ages and is a very crafty player who de­pends on an­gles more than power to win his points. I strug­gle a bit but still hold my own. “What do you think, Ed,” Ro­maine asks. “Is he ready to play with us?” “Not yet,” Marcelo an­swers. “He has a way to go.” This kind of pierces my bub­ble―but what the heck. We have fin­ished up and I am mak­ing plans to meet with the whole team at its new prac­tice fa­cil­ity, the club at Park Meadows, where I would bring my cam­era for some nice shots. Catch­ing my breath and re­hy­drat­ing, Marcelo jok­ingly says, “I think I know the an­gle you can take for your story.” “Oh, yeah? What’s that,” I an­swer. “I played with the na­tional cham­pi­onship team!”

Things get even more ex­cit­ing as we move around, near the net and at the base­line, strik­ing the ball at each other and go­ing through a num­ber of drills.

The na­tional am­a­teur team in its age cat­e­gory in­cludes Steve Ro­maine (left), Tim McClary, Larry Blohm, cap­tain Ed Marcelo, Nile Evans, Masahiro Ku­mamoto and Richard Fell.Not pic­tured are Thomas Martin and Robert Bachula.

Ed Marcelo

Steve Ro­maine (pic­tured) is more of a bomber, while teamcap­tain Ed Marcelo de­pends more on an­gles over power.

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