Click Groot (second from right) is the USTA League Captain of the Month for May.
Click Groot with his 4.5 men's team.
Click Groot, 66, of Grandville, Mich. has been a USTA League captain for seven years and for the past three years has been a men’s 4.5 captain. Groot is a retired schoolteacher, who taught middle and high school for 38 years, and rediscovered the game of tennis at age 53. After suffering the tragic loss of his teenage son, Groot stopped coaching and competing in sports for ten years, before being reintroduced to tennis by a few friends, and the people and the game have become a huge part of his life ever since. Now 13 years later, he still loves to play hard and compete, often playing against men much younger than he is, and is also a USTA certified tennis official.
For his contributions to the game, Groot has been named the USTA League Captain of the Month for May.
USTA.com: How did you start playing tennis? Why do you love playing?
Click Groot: I started playing tennis when I was 53 and I had been a basketball coach, baseball player but fell in love with tennis at that point. I have been playing a lot ever since. I started at 3.5, 4.0 and got bumped up to 4.5.
After I had a teenage son die in 1989, I got out of the coaching and didn’t do much for ten years of any type of sports. I continued to teach school and then some guys asked me if I wanted to fill in a spot and play doubles. I had not played any tennis since college. I said yes and the new racquets were amazing, I could hit the ball harder than I ever could. I thought ‘Wow, this is cool.’ I was borrowing a racquet at the time and ended up buying my own and playing with them. One of the guys was a tennis coach and he didn’t have anyone to play with him on regular basis so he and I played for a few years. We wanted to keep playing in the winter and living in Michigan, you have to join a club. I joined my club, Ramblewood.
Another friend, Dennis Shotwell, asked if I wanted to play on his USTA League team and I started at 3.5. I was 56. Dennis himself was a long time captain, he has been doing it over 20 years. He is still a 3.5 captain. But he got me involved, I met him at Ramblewood. He and I had coached Little League together years before, so I knew his face. He remembered my face that is when he asked me to come down and join his team, I will never forget that day.
Now in addition to my 4.5 League team, I have a 4.0-4.5 league that plays on Monday nights, there are four teams competing, just for fun. We are all also on USTA travel teams.
USTA.com: What has your tennis community meant to you?
Click Groot: My son was a healthy teenage boy just shy of his 16th birthday when he died. He had arrhythmia while he slept. It was very upsetting. Tennis has filled a huge vacuum that was left in my life. I have told the people at the club just how important this new group of tennis people has been to me.
USTA.com: How did you start captaining?
Click Groot: I have been captaining a team for seven years. When I moved up from 3.5 to 4.0, we did not have a current 4.0 team at Ramblewood so I started one. I captained that team for four years and then when I moved up to 4.5, the current 4.5 captain decided not to return, I took over his team. I've been the 4.5 captain for three years.
They had a 4.5 team for one session half a year at the time and another guy tried it for one of those sessions, early start, and he quit. I was 4.5 and I couldn’t play if I didn’t have a team, so I said I will give it a try. Last year, we were 7-3, tied for second place. This year we were a little overwhelmed by a team from Kalamazoo. They have patiently built a very nice team, they have added a few nice pieces.
USTA.com: Why do you enjoy being a captain?
Click Groot: It's just great fun to be on a team and compete. I enjoy putting together a group of players who may not know each other and bring them together as a team. It becomes more than tennis as friendships grow. It can also be rewarding when you get guys who previously played tennis back into the game and on a team.
USTA.com: What is the best aspect of playing USTA League tennis?
Click Groot: Playing travel team tennis gives more of a purpose to our tennis activities. We have a Monday night league that feeds into four different travel teams. Travel team also offers you the opportunity to compete against and become friends with players from other clubs.
USTA.com: How much do you play tennis now?
Click Groot: I wish I could play more. I play with the younger guys mostly and they work full-time. I have a part time job from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. every day so I play two or three times a week. I am healthy, I am so blessed. I can still move, I am slender. My knees are good, it is just a God-given blessing. It is good to be out there with the guys. It is most fun for me to play hard and compete.
USTA.com: Have you ever been to the National Championships?
Click Groot: Nope, we went to states with the 3.5 team and lost to a team from Detroit. That was the year I got bumped up. We did not have a 4.0 team at Ramblewood so I started that with a few other guys who were bumped up as well. That was the first time I was a captain, just seven years ago. We went to states and again lost to a team from Detroit.
USTA.com: How do you feel about playing against younger players?
Click Groot: I can compete with most guys in their 40s and 50s. There is no one else who is 60 who is playing 4.5 around me. I am the oldest on my team. The next oldest is 58, then a 55 and I have guys who got bumped up with me. There are four guys in their 50s, a few in 40s, a few in 30s, a few in their 20s. It is a very eclectic group of great guys. I have a D-II tennis coach on my team, I have one guy who is playing D-II right now, just finishing his year at Michigan Tech, I have three tennis pros who are teaching pros. It is combination of guys.
USTA.com: How did you feel when you heard you were named Captain of the Month?
Click Groot: I thought there must not have been anyone else nominated. George Rodriguez, who nominated me, he was a full time teaching pro. I had him down for some of my Monday night fun-time league stuff, got to know him a little bit and started talking about the 4.5 team and he and I get along. He likes my philosophy. It is a nice honor and I appreciate it.
USTA.com: Who is your favorite tennis player?
Click Groot: Roger Federer would have to be my current favorite tennis player. He is such a class act on and off the court and has an all around game that is fun to watch. He has won the "Sportsmanship" award from his peers many years in a row and helps people through his charities. (Pete (Sampras) - I haven't forgotten you!)
USTA.com: What is your favorite surface to play on?
Click Groot: I play by far the most on hard courts and they are my favorite. In Michigan, we must play inside quite a few months of the year and that of course is hardcourt. Hardcourts give you that true bounce. We have clay courts at my home club, Ramblewood, and we play on them in the summer. It's a different experience with its unpredictable bounces.
USTA.com: What kind of racquet do you use?
Click Groot: I'm unique to play at the 4.5 level with the Prince Thunder Rip 115. It's not exactly known as a "players" racquet but it gives me the power, length, and head size that works for me.
USTA.com: What is your favorite tennis tournament and why?
Click Groot: My favorite tournament to attend would be the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. The entire setting is wonderful and getting around the area is so easy. I enjoy watching the US Open on the Tennis Channel with their expanded coverage using numerous channels.
USTA.com: What is your favorite professional sports team, if any?
Click Groot: I attended my first Chicago Cubs fan when I was 8 years old and have been a Cubs fan ever since. It's been a lot of frustration but also many happy times. The best is yet to come???
USTA.com: What is the best part of your tennis game?
Click Groot: My friends would probably say I don't have a best part to my game. If I had to pick anything I would say my return of serve. If you get the serve back in play 80 percent of the time, you can let your younger, better, partner, finish off the point.
USTA.com: If you could choose any doubles partner, who would it be?
Click Groot: I have a couple of players at my club who are fun for me to play with. They are the younger finishers I mentioned in the previous question. My dream partner would be Alexander Dolgopolov. He has a unique game and it would just be fun to be out there with him sometime.
USTA.com: If you could attend one Grand Slam tournament, what would it be and why?
Click Groot: I'm not the world's biggest traveler, but I would love to someday make it to New York City for the US Open. It would be a thrill to walk the grounds of the tournament I have only seen on TV.