By Rick Vach, USTA.com
The Southwest men's and women's teams.
© USTA/Andrew Ong
USTA League Nationals is all about team support. All teams that make it this far have it, but two teams in particular at this week's 3.0 USTA League Senior National Championships might just have a bit more.
"Grab a racquet and get out here!" a player on Barry Livingston's wife's 3.0 team, representing the USTA Southern California Section, yells at him when another player runs off to the bathroom during a team warm-up.
When he says he doesn't have a racquet, he's told to grab one out of her bag, and he's on court helping warm-up the women.
Livingston is supporting his wife Florence at her first Nationals, less than a year after his 4.0 team qualified for his first Nationals. "I just help them out, tell them to watch the ball, keep their head down, you know, certain things a 3.0 team might forget to do when they get on the court," Livingston said.
But he also knows where to draw the line between spousal support and, as he puts it, "getting too involved."
"I pretty much let my wife control everything because it's her team, and she wouldn't want me involved in her team -- no more than I'd want her involved in my team," Livingston said with a laugh.
Barry has been playing tennis for 32 years, and Florence for more than 10. They've seen, in Barry's case, and are in the process of seeing this weekend, in Florence's case, each other through their success at Nationals, representing Moore Park Tennis Club in Ventura County, Calif. Last year Barry's 4.0 team finished third at Nationals, and seeing his wife's success brings back memories of his team's run.
"Nationals is so great, and to come in third in the whole country was amazing," he said. "It's a high for everyone because it's the end of the season and the best players are there, and I think the USTA does a great job. I have our team banner hanging in my garage -- we play at a public park and we don't want it to get stolen -- and it's nice to look at it and reflect on that."
It's yet another level of team support when both a men's and women's team qualify from the same tennis club. The Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa is known for training champions such as Jim Courier, James Blake, Mardy Fish and the Bryan brothers, but now the SaddleBrook retirement community, approximately 50 miles north of Tucson, is becoming known as a championship community in its own right.
SaddleBrook's men's and women's 3.0 senior teams qualified for this weekend's USTA League 3.0 Senior National Championships in Tucson. The squad's are captained by Joe Schullik on the men's side and Geri Sandilands for the women.
"Geri does a great job working with the gals, they just have a lot of fun playing," said Schullik, who says the community support for one another breeds success. "We've been fortunate enough to go to Nationals for the last six or seven years."
SaddleBrook is a retirement community with the advantage of drawing retiree and "snow bird" tennis players from across the country. Players must reside for at least two months before they can represent the private community on USTA league teams.
"It's a retirement community, so the guys have a little bit of time [to work on their tennis], the gals have a little bit of time, and we're always on the look-out for new players," Schullik said.
Both Schullik and Sandilands didn't pick up tennis until after they retired, but have contributed to SaddleBrook turning out competitive players on a league level to rival the pro academy in Florida. SaddleBrook fields four women's 3.0 teams, and each captain says they have a network of contacts constantly looking for new players.
"People really come to SaddleBrook for the tennis program and not so much the golf, we have a really large tennis program," Sandilands said. "There's a lot of nurturing going on with the stronger players helping the beginning players. I didn't even know what that meant until I became a captain a few years ago."
Sandilands retired to SaddleBrook from Buffalo, N.Y., and picked up tennis for the first time through one of the USTA's entry-level programs.
"I took the USTA Tennis 1-2-3 program for $25. I received a racquet and six lessons, and I was hooked," Sandilands said. "We still have the USTA Tennis 1-2-3 program, where for people who used to play, it's kind of a re-start for them, and it's for the beginners."
The SaddleBrook women's team's secret weapon has been their snow birds -- one player from Ohio who stays at SaddleBrook from January through March flew in for the weekend to play, and they boast the athletic pair of Bob and Peggy Shay from Oregon. "They come as snow birds from Oregon, and they do so many other things -- they showshoe, mountain bike, they are both swimmers with lots of medals, they are a very active couple. They have their own bi-plane, they both pilot."
Sandilands attributes her success as a captain to basketball coaching legend John Wooden's book 'Pyramid of Success.'
"You have to build bridges, cooperation, so each level is built on so that you come to greatness," Sandilands said. "And we have built it up to include friendships, honesty, integrity, and we have used it to build a great team of friends. And from this weekend I guess we can see the greatness!"
Both captains talk down SaddleBrook (with the capital "B") outshining their Florida tennis academy namesake, but can't deny the retirement community's success -- or frequent flyer miles.
"Joe captains a thousand teams so he is always all over the country at national tournaments," Sandilands said with a laugh. "I think it's just a privilege to be here for us."