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Charlie Garfinkel’s Racket Sports: Area tennis greats pay tribute to Bowen

Seth Bowen, 54, a Nichols School and University of Arizona tennis great, passed away unexpectedly on May 29 in Laguna Beach, Calif.

In 2000, Bowen was ranked sixth by the Buffalo News in the top 10 tennis players from the years 1950-2000. Some players who were ranked ahead of him were Jimmy Arias and Bobby Banck, who went on to be ranked fifth and 200th, respectively, on the men’s pro tour, and Rauno Suominen, who was formerly on the Finnish Davis Cup team.

As the saying goes, “Not too shabby.” Bowen was inducted into the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006 and was ranked 409th in singles and 334th in doubles on the ATP tour. He was a beloved competitor in the WNY tennis scene due to his outstanding talent and personality. He will be greatly missed.

The following tributes are from local tennis players who were close friends of Seth:

Tom LaPenna (Director of the High Performance Tennis Program at the Village Glen): La Penna started teaching and playing tennis at the Buffalo Tennis Center in 1975 where he first met Bowen. LaPenna is responsible for most of the success that Bowen achieved. “Even at the early age of 13 it was evident that Seth was going to be a great player,” LaPenna said. “He had a great attitude and a wonderful disposition. He never took a win or a loss too seriously. It was uncanny that he had such an understanding of the game at such an early age. His size, quickness , and athleticism made him an outstanding player.

He stressed that Bowen’s serve and volley game were nonpareil. He had one of the best first and second serve combination of any player in WNY annals.

“I had the good fortune to play quite a few doubles tournaments with Seth, both locally and out of town,” LaPenna said. “We won the New York State Hard Court Doubles Championship in 1979. The trophy said Bowen-Lapenna as winners. We didn’t win it. Seth won it!”

“Seth always respected everyone that he came into contact with,” LaPenna said. “He was the first student that I ever coached and was a class act.” “He will never be forgotten and I still can’t get over the shock that he is no longer with us.”

Todd Miller (International Master Professional): “Seth was part of an outstanding group of juniors in the 1970s that included Arias, Banck, David Loder, and Alex Gaeta.

“Seth was without doubt one of the most natural athletes to ever play tennis in WNY. Although he had a great serve and volley game he could be equally proficient from the back court. He was outstanding with his shot selection and could vary his ground strokes with top spin and slice. I was shocked and extremely saddened to hear the news of his passing.

“It was an honor to induct Seth into the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006. What stood out in my memory at Seth’s induction was seeing the expression and joy that he exhibited when he was sharing that moment with his son Sterling. His incredible prowess and accomplishments on the tennis court will live on forever.”

Alex Gaeta (Division III NCAA Doubles Champion at University of Rochester): Gaeta was a teammate of Bowen’s at Nichols. Those two players, along with Dr. Dave Carlson, formed what is considered to be one of the all time finest high school tennis teams in WNY. “Seth was such a great guy. We had a great rivalry and were best friends in high school,” Gaeta said. “Seth was always a gentleman whether he won or lost. He had a strong sense of ethics and was always good natured and he moved unbelievably for a man of his size. He was known as the ‘Gentle Giant’ with a great heart.”

Rich Abbott (UB Athletic Hall of Famer): “Seth was a great guy and had an incredible amount of talent. He had the perfect build for tennis; standing 6-4 and weighing 190 pounds. He was very confident on and off the court; but never arrogant. He was so hard to defeat due to his mental toughness and his physical attributes. He will be sorely missed by his family, friends, and the tennis community.”

Rev. Bob Hetherington (Many Time City Open and Muny Singles Champion): Hetherington, who was affectionately called “The Rev” had many memorable matches with Bowen. “Seth had a great love for the game and it was evident in the way he played and carried himself,” Hetherington said. “He had a huge serve with outstanding power. After playing in college and then the ATP pro tour his game went to another level which made it virtually impossible for me to defeat him any more. He really was a nice kid who loved the game of tennis and was respected by everyone; both on and off the court.”

Three advance in S&C Tournament

Marcus Fugate, (Rochester) and locals Tony Miller and Sebastian Ionescu, (UB team members) earned main draw berths in the Sargent & Collins LLP $10,000 Futures Tournament at Miller Tennis Center with victories.

Fugate won the singles title with wins over Matt Gamble (Rochester) 6-0, 6-3 and defeated Mark VanMeter (Cleveland) 6-0, 6-1 in the finals. Miller and Ionescu won the Wild Card doubles championship by defeating Lee Nickell (UB head tennis coach) and former UB player Alexey Kalinin 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals. In the finals they beat Vusa Hove and Nick Zieziula, both former UB greats, 6-4, 2-6, 10-8 in the finals.

Players who will be competing in this week’s Pro Singles main draw are Winston Lin, Fugate, and Miller, who will also be competing in the doubles main draw with Ionescu. For further information call Miller Tennis Center at 632-8600.

email: thegreatgar@verizon.net