NorCal Men's Adult Leagues Team Brings Home the National Championship Title
The 2022 USTA League National Championship season continues to be a great success for adult teams from across the country, and USTA Northern California is proud to have another team earn the coveted national title. Congratulations to the Adult 40 & Over Men’s 3.0 team from Pleasanton, Dublin, and San Ramon for winning the National Championship of their division in Surprise, Ariz. on October 21-23, 2022.
We caught up with captain Narayana Surapaneni to hear about his team’s journey at Nationals and how they were crowned the champions.
Plus, we're honored to share that we had over 40 teams represent NorCal at the National Championships. Stay tuned to hear more about our teams who competed at Nationals and represented our NorCal section proudly!
Adult 40 & Over Men's 3.0 Team Captain Narayana Rao Surapaneni
Led by myself and co-captain Vamsi Paladugu, our team is a part of the Dublin Pleasanton Tennis Group (DPTG), a local group whose home courts are at Pleasanton Tennis Park managed by Lifetime Activities Pleasanton. This is a proud and unique moment for us, NorCal, Tri-Valley, and especially for the residents and sports lovers from Pleasanton, Dublin, and San Ramon.
Many teams in our region in the past have come close to winning the National Championship, but this is the first time that residents of the region brought the trophy home for USTA NorCal and Tri-Valley in the Adult 40 & Over Men’s 3.0 division.
Just to put things into perspective, only 1% of the US players who participate in USTA leagues make it to a National Championship in their lifetime. This team not only made it to Nationals twice this year in both the Adult 18 & Over Men’s 3.0 division and the Adult 40 & Over Men’s 3.0 division, but we also won one of them! Our journey from misfits a year ago to the championship and winning it all this year is truly inspirational to many in the local league (as heard from them).
The story started after some of the players lost in the USTA NorCal Sectionals in the Adult 40 & Over in 2021. This was also the first year I played a USTA match, and I also helped lead the team to Sectionals. After competing at Sectionals in 2021, I then decided to build the team from scratch with the core values needed for competitive sports such as a team-first approach and commitment. While many people thought we could not build a championship-caliber team given how much focus is often put on players’ own wins, year-end ratings, bias, personal preferences, and so on, I knew differently. I pushed forward to find new talent that would embrace my philosophy asking a few simple questions, such as does the player have fire in their belly to succeed and the potential to improve the game quickly? Is the player committed to the team over themself in every single decision he makes? And can the player come to practice 4-5 times a week and put in the practice and commitment? It sounds simple on paper, but pulling together people with similar attitudes and finding public courts for practice was a daunting task. Add to this, making the whole team believe in the vision that we all can do this was very time-consuming.
In 2022, we took baby steps toward winning in the local league matches and we won the local league and Sectionals in both our Adult 18 & Over Men’s 3.0 and the Adult 40 & Over Men’s 3.0 divisions, which reinforced our faith that we can do this. Though we fell short of winning Nationals in our 18 & Over league, our first experience was great and further motivated the team to give it all to win the National Championship in our Adult 40 & Over league.
Our mantra was “One ball at a time. We win one play at a time, and we win the game and match.” With that as our guide, we won the National Championship against all odds. By the end of day one, we were underdogs at position six in regular national league matches, wondering if we should leave early since only the top four teams make it to the semifinals. Nevertheless, we fought our way to the top four by a slim margin on day two, only to play the undefeated No. 1 team from Mississippi in the semifinals and beat them 3-1. On that day I was awake until 1:30 a.m. trying to figure out all the possible opponent moves, lineups, our strengths, etc. Analytics always has been a big part of our strategy throughout and it helped us understand the behaviors of the team and steer the team to success.
Personally, I am very aware of the behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses of my team, as I have watched every single player during this journey and also in hundreds of practices we had. All of this helped me put together a plan to give us a good chance to win it all. It was not easy since one of our key players couldn’t play after the first match against Florida due to severe cramps and in the semifinals; another player had an arm injury. Given our thin roster and two players with injuries, it limited options and came down to where to hedge lineups. We met Portland in the finals, ranked No. 2 in regular Nationals' league matches, and played very strategically to defeat them 3-1. What a victory! It was a victory that surprised most of the folks, as everyone thought it was impossible to beat both the No. 1 and 2 teams. Many teammates said my more than a full-time job like dedication to the team paid the dividends and I felt it was worth doing in every way!
Being part of the Dublin Pleasanton Tennis Group, we were fortunate to get guidance and help from many individuals who themselves are captains or players for 3.5, 4.0, and 4.5 teams, including Hitendra Mishra, Sunil Shenoy, Chaitanya Mamdur, Vamsi Bappudi, Sreerama Garkapti, Anand Vairavan, and Gabriel Ionita, all residents of Tri-Valley. During the entire preparation phase, they helped us with mentoring and coaching (Gabriel Ionita, USPTA, and PTR certified Tennis Instructor), pushed us constantly by practicing with us a level or two up, constantly coming and cheering for us during our home and even away matches, and so on. Without the support from this broader group and without the dedication from the players who wanted to get this accomplished and who gave everything they had including making many personal sacrifices, all this wouldn’t have been possible.
Finally, we are very thankful to USTA NorCal for the opportunities they provided to us and for always being there to answer any of our questions and to guide us in every step. Special thanks to Michelle and Mike at USTA NorCal. We are also Immensely thankful to the City of Pleasanton and Diana Mae and her staff at Pleasanton Tennis Park for always helping us to host the games at their facility and for being always available to address any scheduling changes we might have had.
Team Members: Narayana Rao Surapaneni (Captain), Vamsi Paladugu (Co-Captain), Raghupal Bejjanki, Ravi Guntur, Rajeev Gupta, Gautam Joshi, Manoj Lakinana, Dave McConnell, Shiv Sharma, Kishore Sundaresan, Venkata Venkataraman, Sudhish Verma, Mohammad Ziaee, Shankar Murahari, Bheemsen Aitha, Muneesh Batra
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