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Melting Pot Team Finally Reaches Tucson Heat

March 26, 2009 10:43 AM

by Thomas Flanagan, usta.com

OK, so, there’s a Frenchman, and Irishman, a German and an Englishman.

You’re probably expecting that their next move will be walking into the bar.

That happens after tennis.

The USTA Eastern Men’s 4.0 team is as diverse as it is talented. A core collection of “good players and better guys” began its journey to the USTA League presented by Chrysler National Championships over a decade ago, and the dream has been realized at the Randolph Tennis center in Tucson.

“We have guys from literally all over the world,” said Woody Schneider, the man largely responsible for keeping no more than two degrees of separation between the teammates.

Schneider owns a tennis store in New York and some of his customers became playing partners, friends and eventually teammates. Some of them brought their friends, and friendships that extend well beyond the lines of a tennis court were formed.

“This team is mostly made up from referrals,” said captain Jim Edwards, a South African, who moved during the season from New York to England, but flew out to join his buddies for their moment on the big stage. “The best thing about it is that we’re truly a team. We all play for each other. There’s two qualifications to be on this team. Obviously, we wanted good tennis players, but you also have to be a good guy, and they all are.”

The road to Tucson was a long one for the gang from New York, one that included a lot of tennis, gallons of margaritas and a lot of friendly ribbing about everything from athletic ability to relationships.

“One of the things that the guys from foreign countries were so surprised about was the level of organization and structure of the league, from the local level all the way up to the national championships,” said Schneider, who nearly got to nationals 11 years ago before a teammate was disqualified under the old visual ranking system. “To get here with these guys is a great reward for all the time we’ve put into together.”

The Eastern team had to win 11 rounds of local and regional playoffs to get to Tucson and in nine of those rounds, the match score was 3-2.

“It all goes back to us truly being a team,” Edwards said. “We had so many close matches and everyone contributed. We had a different hero every match.”

Not only are the men from Eastern representative of nearly 10 different home countries, they arrived in New York for myriad reasons.

Siim Vanaselja, a legal consultant, came to New York City from Estonia with his parents at 14, with not a dollar to his name.

Some, like Ireland’s Jan Witke came to the states for school. Other still, such as France’s Pierre-Marie Lagnaud, came for work.

The roster includes players from Ireland, Estonia, England, South Africa, France, Germany, St. Vincent, the United States.

While all of the players were “can’t-sleep-at-night” excited to be in Tucson competing for a national championship, they’re also aware that the end is near.

“It’s tough to think that, because of the breakup rule, we’ll sort have to disband the team,” Schneider said. “We have so much fun together, and it’s more than just tennis.”

While tennis was the original connection between a group of guys who may have otherwise never met, it’s the friendship - and the margaritas – that have strengthened the bond.

“We have so much fun going out and hanging around together after the matches. I think I might have been the only guy to play three days of tennis in Syracuse who came back four pounds heavier,” Schneider joked.

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