By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
As the USTA League Adult 18 & Over 5.0+ National Championships got underway at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the competition looked tougher than ever, with each team’s roster now including up to two 5.5 players.
One of those competitors is 56-year-old USTA Mid-Atlantic co-captain Mark Vines, a former touring tennis professional and current director of tennis at the Oakwood Country Club in Lynchburg, Va.
“My life outside my wife and family is tennis,” he said. “It’s a career. It’s a love of the sport and it’s a lifestyle.”
After playing four years of collegiate tennis at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Vines turned professional in 1979 and competed on the ATP World Tour until 1984. During that time he won the Paris indoor singles title in 1981 and achieved a career-high singles ranking of No. 105 in the world in 1982.
“You have to put your dues in as a pro. You have to spend a lot of time working on it,” said Vines. He vividly recollects playing against players such as John McEnroe, Yannick Noah and Jimmy Connors, as well as reaching the third round of the 1981 US Open before losing to Ivan Lendl in a tight four-set match on the Grandstand.
“It’s a wonderful experience; it seems like a lifetime ago,” Vines said. “It’s something I can always treasure and hold on to.”
Vines played USTA League several years ago and returned recently. This is his first USTA League National Championship.
“I think I might be the oldest 5.5 player in the country,” said Vines. “I just want to keep it going. I love to compete. I’ve been blessed with having good legs. I try to be injury-free. Once you get above 50, that’s the name of the game.”
In many ways, USTA League comes naturally to Vines. He is a big supporter of USTA League programming at Oakwood, where it has become a smash hit.
“At my club, [USTA] leagues rule,” he said. “From the 2.5s, all the way to the 4.0s at my club, league play is tremendous. We do a lot of leagues in Lynchburg, and they love it.”
Under bright, sunny skies on the opening day of the competition, Vines found out how tough the competition is in this new era of USTA League, dropping a 6-3, 6-4 decision for Mid-Atlantic in the No. 1 singles match to Timothy Britton of the Southern California section.
“I didn’t win today. I lost a match. Their guy played very well and I wish him the best of luck,” said Vines, who has won more than a dozen USTA gold balls in various age divisions. “There is always another match. The great thing is that I’ve got a team behind me. It’s fun.”