Chalí Hernandez in action.
© Andrew Ong/USTA
Dennis Gonzalez at 3.0 Senior Nationals.
© Andrew Ong
By Kevin Wittner, USTA.com
TUCSON, Ariz. – They sang their way to the 6.0 Super Senior Men’s National Championship in 2008, and now they are back for more.
The self-described “singing team” from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is representing the Caribbean section at the 2009 USTA League 3.0 Senior National Championship at the Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson.
By combining the talents of a few “professional quality voices,” the son of a famous Puerto Rican composer, a couple guitars and some of the island’s world-famous rum; this team is one of the most fun-loving and talented teams both on and off the court.
The team’s musical leader is Chalí Hernandez, whose father Rafael, was a renowned composer across Latin America. Hernandez, now the curator at his father’s museum at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rican, says that the team frequently brings a guitar when going out to restaurants, partaking in the tradition of bohemia, or the singing of the old, beautiful ballads.
Many Puerto Ricans know the team’s favorite songs, “Preciosa” and “Lamento Borincano,” because they were made famous by the elder Hernandez.
When asked to describe how famous Rafael Hernandez’s popularity in Latin America compares to someone in the United States, team member Bob Zoba quickly replies: “Frank Sinatra.”
Zoba, a pastor in the Second Union Church who had previously led a congregation in Chicago, said the team is liable to begin singing at any time and needs no occasion or excuse to do so.
“The music comes spontaneously,” Zoba said. “Puerto Ricans love to sing.”
This weekend, however, the team’s noted late-night jam sessions have been tempered, in part, because of the time change from Puerto Rico to Tucson, team member Dennis Gonzalez said.
“Sometimes we stay up a little later than we should, until 1 or 2 in the morning” Gonzalez joked. “But here with the time change, we’re basically getting up at four in the morning with our biological clocks, so we don’t stay up as we usually do.”
This is not to say that the team will not have plenty of opportunities to get together to belt out more tunes soon. The players note that they are only weeks away from the traditional month-long Christmas holiday, which includes the celebration of parranda; a festivity during which participants essentially sing carols, drink their neighbors’ rum and then invite their neighbors to join them as the group moves along to the next house.
For now, the team has some business to take care of, as it looks to capture its second national title in the last six months. With some luck, they hope to be singing about the championship all the way back to Puerto Rico.