October 30, 2018

The Washington InterNationals represented the USTA Mid-Atlantic in the Adult 40 & Over 3.5 National Championships in Arlington, Texas at the Arlington Tennis Center October 19 – 21. The men’s tennis team from Washington DC ended up taking home the crown, and became National Champions just one year after being the national runner-ups.


With spectators and teammates lined down the fences, team-captain Christopher Lee knew his court was the deciding match of whether his Washington InterNationals would fly home as national champions or with the same result as 2017 – runner-ups. Lee was in a second-set tiebreak, knowing a third-set tiebreak was not the rout he wanted to go down. But up 6-2 in the breaker, a forehand slice forced a just-wide shot and jubilance ensued.


“My teammates stormed the court and swarmed me,” Lee said. ADVERTISEMENT “I felt water being poured on my head as I was being embraced and high-fived. What a rollercoaster weekend, I can’t believe we did it.”


With Lee at Captain, the InterNationals included: Paul Lluy, Wesley Calayag, Sumeet Chawla, Thoufiq Kaleemullah, Brian Lynk, Anthony Pappas, Vince Sbarra, Marcus Moore, Jonathan Rivera, Mikhail Laryukhin, Dong Ko and plays at Hains Point in Washington, DC. Their team name comes from the Washington Nationals baseball team, but with a twist. Players with ethnic backgrounds representing Cuba, France, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Korea, the Philippines and Turkey had the InterNationals embracing their diversity, so they added an “Inter” in front of “Nationals.” Washington’s motto throughout the year was “Just WIN, Baby!”


The InterNationals edged a team from Orem, Utah, 3-2 in the national title match after cruising by a team from Fort Lee, New Jersey in the semifinals. But the win didn’t come without hardship. Having gone to Nationals back-to-back years, a team is only allowed to retain three players from its previous run if it makes it to Nationals.


Lee’s squad was the runner-up the previous year; his personal loss in the title match was a court that would’ve, if he had won, handed the trophy to the team in 2017. 


When Lee recruited Chawla and Kaleemullah for the 2018 team, he had no idea how clutch they’d be down the stretch. Chawla, nicknamed “TNT” due to his knack for drama, had all five matches go into a match tiebreak. After dropping the first one, Chawla reeled off four straight wins in thrilling fashion. Kaleemullah, in his first full year playing USTA League matches, saved his best for last, going a perfect 5-0 at Nationals.


Each player had a nickname that had correlation to their playing style or name. And because nicknames are too fun to not be shown off:

·       Vince (Vinsanity) Sbarra

·       Johathan (Johnny Riv) Rivera

·       Anthony (Big Pappa) Pappas

·       Brian (Windmill) Lynk

·       Paul (Baba Lu) Lluy

·       Chris (Just Spin, Baby) Lee

·       Mikhail (Need Three Balls) Laryukhin

·       Dong (K.O.’D) Ko.

·       Thoufiq (Terrifiq) Kaleemullah

·       Wesley (Cool Cat) Calayag


Like the nicknames, the team was carefully assembled.  “After having reached the Finals at Nationals in 2017, I built this team with the full intention of returning to Nationals and finishing what we could not last year, Lee said. “It was a lofty goal, no doubt, but winning Nationals was my stated goal from the initial message to my teammates.”


The InterNationals brought the Mid-Atlantic Section its only national champion title of the event. As for Lee, he hadn’t sniffed so much at a Sectionals appearance from 2012-2015. One year removed from having himself in the lineup, a decision he strongly regrets, and losing a winner-take-all match, Lee came through in dramatic fashion for an InterNationals team that knew they had what it took.


With the title National Champion forever engraved in each Washington InterNationals player’s heart, the team will disband a bit in the coming year. With the rule allowing just three returners from this high of a caliber team and Lee understanding that many InterNationals will be promoted to 4.0, he plans to captain a team again at the 4.0 level.

Wherever the teammates end up, a knack for the dramatic seems to follow each and every player, and chances are they may Just WIN, at the next level.

The 2018 USTA League National Championships continued this past weekend, Oct. 26 – 28, and will continue through Nov. 18 for various league divisions and age groups.


If you dream of a shot at Nationals or even just playing on a tight-knit team like the Washington InterNationals, check out more about USTA leagues in the Mid-Atlantic and get on court to make friends, memories, and shots that’ll last a lifetime.


Related Articles