Ken White's prowess on the tennis court has kept the former UB All-American ranked in The Buffalo News' Top 10 almost non-stop for the 25 years it has been chosen.
Even more amazing is the fact that the 47-year-old White was the area's top-ranked player from 2004 to 2006 when he was in his mid-40s, competing against outstanding players 15 to 20 years younger.
Recently, White has played even more superbly in adding to his legacy. The National 45-Over Grass Court Singles and Doubles Championships were held Sept. 4-7 in Philadelphia at the Germantown Cricket Club and Merion Grass Court Club.
White reached the finals by beating the Nos. 3, 8 and 13 seeds in singles, where he lost to the nation's No. 1-ranked 45-over player, Andrew Stoner of Scottsdale, Ariz., 6-3, 6-4.
In doubles White and Doug Elly, the No. 3-seeded singles player, reached the semifinals before losing, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, to the tournament's top seeds, Scott Davis and Greg Washer (Laguna Beach, Calif.). Davis was formerly ranked in the top 25 in the world in open singles and was part of the No. 1-ranked world's doubles team with partner David Pate in the mid 1980s.
"I was thrilled with the way that I played," White said. "I arrived in Philadelphia a day early to get acclimated to the low bounce of the grass court. Like many players in the tournament I didn't have an opportunity to practice on grass courts as there are none in the Western New York area.
"Fortunately, the surface fit my game beautifully as I served and volleyed throughout all of my matches."
From Philadelphia, White went to Kansas City to play in a Tier 2 National Hard Court tournament Sept. 11-14. He continued his outstanding play by reaching the semifinals of the singles and winning the doubles title with Elly. White has been rewarded with his excellent play by being ranked third in singles in the United States and in the top three in doubles with Elly in the 45-and-over division.
With all of White's success the past 25 years, he readily admits that he was just average when he played for Tonawanda High. When White enrolled at the University at Buffalo his tennis career skyrocketed.
"Any success that I have had in my tennis career I owe to my former tennis coach at UB, the legendary Bill Monkarsh," White said. Monkarsh saw an innate ability in the 6-foot-2, 210-pound youngster. He helped White to develop one of the most powerful tennis games ever witnessed in Western New York.
"Coach Monkarsh had the amazing ability to bring out the best in you," White said. "He would practice with me endlessly, working on my strokes and strategy, often twice a day. He cared so much in having his players improve and he was able to bring out the best in me, even though he worked me unmercifully."
Although White still hits the ball with amazing power, especially for a 47-year-old, he is a cerebral player. He is always thinking throughout his matches.
"I always want to get the first point when my opponent is serving," White said. "Immediately, I have him on the defensive. If he doesn't get the next point he's down 0-30. He's also got to be thinking that my serve is coming up and it will be awfully hard for him to break me, as that is the best part of my game."
When White serves he tries to hit with a lot of spin and power, attempting to get in as many first serves to his opponent's backhand as possible. If he gets a weak return he powers the next shot deep into the corner of his opponent's court and then approaches the net, where he is extremely hard to pass or lob over.
White's practice methods have a great deal to do with his success, especially against younger players who tend to work on their topspin strokes while rarely practicing slice shots or their net games.
"Even though I am basically known as a power hitter I try to greatly vary my game when I am playing against the youngsters," White said. "I try to keep the ball out of their hitting zone. I will hit a lot of slice shots and drop shots to get them out of their rhythm. I have found that the strategy really fouls up their timing."
He has practiced quite a bit with Alex Parker, one of the area's finest young players. During those sessions, Parker would sometimes win a set from White, who would be concentrating on different aspects of his game.
Everything changed when the match meant something. White defeated Parker, 6-2, 6-2, in the finals of the Buffalo City Open this summer.
"I remembered what Parker's strong and weak points were when I played him in practice," White said. "I then formulated a game plan that I thought would be effective in defeating him. Don't get me wrong. Parker is a wonderful player and will be extremely difficult to defeat in the next few years. However, I get great satisfaction in putting together a game plan that will eventually lead me to success, whether I'm playing local youngsters or players in the nationals."
Another reason for White's success is that he stays in phenomenal shape and exudes confidence both on and off the court. He works out as much as possible, especially during the winter when he doesn't play as much.
As for his confidence, White says, "Most players that I compete against have one or two really strong points. I'm fortunate in having four: my serve, volley, overhead, and competitiveness."
"What really keeps me going is my biggest fan, my 80-year-old dad, Warren, who comes to all of my matches" White said.