© Andrew Ong
By Tom LaDue, USTA.com
Tucson, Ariz. - It’s hard enough to make it to the USTA 4.5 Senior League National Championships once in a lifetime but for Theo Mandel it’s his second straight appearance and fourth in the last five years.
“It’s a fun time coming back to the Nationals,” replied Mandel. “Our team was so close last year making it to the semis but we lost in the tiebreak to advance.”
Last year Theo represented the Southwest section this time he’s taken his game to the Intermountain section.
“I’m hoping this year is the one,” laughed Mandel. “Luck has to go my way one of these times. It was like déjà vu this morning as our first match was on the same bank of three courts that we were on for our last match last year.”
Tennis enthusiasts can only dream of being able to hit the court with a tennis icon. For Mandel it’s something that happened based on the way his life has taken him.
“I just really enjoy playing this game and have been lucky enough over the years to play with some tennis legends,” replied Mandel. “They’ve won their share of championships hopefully mine will come soon.”
Mandel had the opportunity to play against the great Arthur Ashe in the 1970’s, while working for Head Tennis. Ashe is the only African American player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open and in September was inducted to the Court of Champions at the US Open.
“Arthur and I wouldn’t really play competitive matches against one another but often times I got the chance to go and hit with him,” said Mandel. “Arthur was a great person all around.”
In addition to Ashe, Mandel got to play many matches against Argentine star Guillermo Vilas. Vilas spent time testing racquets at the Head facility in Boulder, Colo., as well.
Mandel would love to join Ashe and Vilas as a winner of a national championship but it will take some luck this year as his team lost a tough first round match this morning to the team from Southern California.