By Ron Cioffi, USTA Southern
One game. That’s all it took to move the USTA Caribbean team into the USTA League Presented by Chrysler 2.5 Adult Men’s National Championships.
One game was the difference as four teams with 7-3 records battled in Puerto Rico for the right to compete in Las Vegas at Nationals.
The difference might have been the family and friends connections that propelled the team from Praderas, Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
In February Jorge Francisco Figueroa caught the “tennis fever in the neighborhood” and called his brother, Jorge Javier Figueroa-Flores, who called his brother-in-law, Miguel, who callled his brother-in-law, Angel, who called his best friend from high school. Next thing you know, they were a dedicated bunch of beginners.
“When we showed up on the courts for the first time, one guy showed up in jeans. Other guys were in basketball shorts and shirts and shoes. We began practicing long hours, sometimes until 1:00 in the morning. At least that’s what we told our wives,” Jorge Francisco said.
After beginning the season with a 1-3 record, the team rededicated themselves. Jorge Francisco lost 40 pounds and two other players lost 25 each. “We were a pretty fat team,” Jorge Javier joked.
To work on their backhands, the team bought 10 boxes of balls at Costco and practiced for hours on end.
The hard work paid off as the team went on a run, clawing their way back to a 7-3 record.
“We were in fourth place until the last weekend. After we won and a few of the other teams lost we moved up to second place. I texted the guys to let them know we finished second. Some were in church getting the messages on their cell phones.
Then in the final match of the seaon, the first place team dropped just enough games allowing us to slip by them by one game. We were tied in the other tiebreakers but one game was the difference,” reported Jorge Francisco.
“There’s trash talk all the time in our league and very raucous fans.” Angel recounted. “It’s nothing like the atmosphere here at the Nationals in Las Vegas.”
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