NTRP Nationals Spotlight:
Craig Ellenport | August 5, 2019
In 2018, the USTA launched the NTRP National Championships, a national adult tournament that leverages the NTRP rating system as a way to create level-based competition. After a second successful event earlier this year, USTA.com is highlighting the players who made the event so special. Learn how to qualify for the NTRP National Championships in your section here.
This month, we caught up with USTA Florida member Bill Calafiura, who competed this year at the 3.5 level in Naples, Fla.—a great achievement considering just a few years ago he thought he might never play tennis again.
Bill Calafiura started playing tennis much later than expected… and for a while, it looked as if he would have to give up the sport he came to love much sooner than planned.
Calafiura didn’t start playing tennis until nine years ago, when he was already 44 years old, but he always knew he wanted to play. ADVERTISEMENT In fact, when he put together his first resume after college, he listed tennis under “hobbies and interests.” Which was odd, seeing as how he never played tennis.
“I just knew that one day the time was gonna come that I’d make an effort to play tennis,” said Calafiura. That time was January 2010, when he moved to Tampa. “When I moved to Florida, I rented an apartment near the tennis courts, because I knew it was time. Time to start playing.”
After spending most of his life in Cleveland and Chicago, Calafiura left the corporate world and developed a new routine. He lived in Florida during the winter, playing as much tennis as possible, then spent time in Costa Rica serving as a volunteer football coach. In the spring, he’d go back to Chicago, and after making a few business trips across the Midwest, he’d settle into a leased apartment in close proximity to the Waveland Park Tennis Courts, on the banks of Lake Michigan.
“A slice of tennis heaven,” said Calafiura. “I got in with the regulars—they call themselves the Waveland Group. People from Poland, Italy, Romania, Thailand, the Philippines, you name it. A bunch of guys that love playing tennis.”
Calafiura would play with the Waveland Group until the weather turned, then he’d go back to Florida and start the routine again. A few years in, however, the routine hit an abrupt stop.
In his mid-30s, Calafiura had Lasik surgery and for years he enjoyed perfect vision. By 2014, his distance vision was starting to get worse, so in June of that year he went back to the Cleveland Clinic, where he had his first Lasik surgery. He only needed his left eye done this time, but the procedure did not go well. Calafiura could not see in his left eye, and it took about a week before the doctors could figure out why.
“I had a very, very rare corneal infection, deep inside my eye,” Calafiura explained, “and they didn’t know if they could stop the infection quickly enough.”
The outlook was not good. Finally, after a couple of weeks, the infection stopped.
“The doctor said, ‘Look, your eye has a lot of scar tissue down there where the infection was. You’re not going to see very good for about four or five months. Your vision is going to correct, a little bit every day. At the end of four or five months, we’ll bring you back here and try to do the surgery again, clean out the scar tissue and save your vision.’”
Even after he knew his vision would be restored, things weren’t exactly right. He went to Chicago and planned to play with the Waveland Group. He still couldn’t see very well, but figured he’d at least play doubles with some of the older guys, and just play the net. But he couldn’t see the ball. He couldn’t get the easiest shots in.
“I remember coming home from that day thinking, I might never play tennis again. I only played for a couple of years, I loved it. I’m glad I got to play as much as I did. I was grateful that I had what I had, but I thought I might not ever play tennis again.”
Four months later, Calafiura was back in Cleveland and the eye healed enough to have the corrective procedure done. After a few terrifying months, his vision was back to normal. Ever since, he has an even greater appreciation for the sport he loves.
“Every time I’m out on that court, like I was this morning, I can’t help but feel gratitude for being out there,” he said. “Win or lose, I’m able to see. I’m able to play.”
Calafiura said he’s lost a little of that killer instinct on the court because he’s just so happy to still be out there. Still, he played well enough to make it to the quarterfinals at this year’s NTRP National Championship in Naples.
“It was a great experience,” said Calafiura. “The USTA is a wonderful organization. They enable adults to have the thrill of competition that you can’t really get in any other way. That was a joy, it was fun.”
Winning or losing doesn’t really matter to Calafiura when he’s on the court, playing tennis as he always knew he would.
“I’m already a winner when I’m out there and I’m able to see the ball and play.”