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When it comes to tennis, age is just a number

I am amazed at how many tennis players 65 and over are playing really good doubles tennis and are in remarkable shape. The following are some who give their opinions on playing tennis, conditioning, the mental part of the game, and special tips for players, regardless of their age, who used to play and are thinking of taking up tennis again.

Dave Aquino: “When I play tennis, I want to win and be competitive at all times,” he said. “At the same time I want to enjoy myself with the friends that I am playing with.” Fortunately, Aquino is blessed with great speed afoot and a strong forehand. He plays three times a week, works out five times a week at a local gym, and also puts in a great amount of time biking.

“I don’t want to scare off tennis players with my vigorous activities who haven’t played tennis in a few years and are thinking of picking up the game,” Aquino said. He stressed that if they come back slowly, take a few lessons, or join a group, they can proceed at a slow pace to enjoy playing tennis again.

Don Dehoff: Dehoff has a great passion for the game of tennis, verified by the fact that he plays 3-4 times a week, takes a drill clinic once a week, occasionally takes a tennis lesson, and works out for an hour almost every day at a local gym.

Dehoff stresses that communication is important. For instance, he and his doubles partner will tell each other where they are going to serve or return serve, and when they should both approach the net.

“As much as I love playing tennis at a high level, it wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t supplementing my tennis with the workouts that I do to keep me in shape,” DeHoff said.

Jim DeLellis: DeLellis is in exceptional physical shape and is one of the few players in his age group who tries to serve and volley and approach the net as much as possible.

“Unlike many of the tennis players that I play with, I only try to play every other day,” Delellis said. “I am cognizant of the fact that, as I have gotten older, my body needs more time to recuperate.”

He also does 15-20 minutes of yoga every day, does weight training twice a week, and also watches his diet closely. DeLellis is also one of the smartest and most mentally motivated players in his tennis group.

“I try to be mentally tough at all times and focus on the ball as it approaches me,” DeLellis said.

Chip Kubenic: Kubenic stands 6-2 and sheepishly admits to weighing slightly over 200 pounds. Although that may be debatable, there is no mistaking that he is the hardest hitter in the group. His serve would be the envy of players much younger than he is and all of his shots are well hit.

Kubenic’s approach to warming up is a little bit different than most players. He always tries to arrive at least 15-20 minutes before his scheduled court time.

“I do this to get my body warmed up by practicing my shots to help me mentally in preparation for commencing play,” Kubenic said. “When I actually start play, my early warmup has helped me to stay focused at all times.

Sam LaDuca: LaDuca is one of the best-liked tennis players on or off the court in WNY. The following statement personifies LaDuca’s feelings about playing doubles: “When I go out to play tennis with my doubles partner, I try to put forth the best effort that I can to defeat our opponents. If my partner and I do happen to lose, I know that I have played my best and I will congratulate my opponents on winning the match and their fine play.”

LaDuca, like most of the players in the group, is in excellent physical shape. He attributes this to doing everything in moderation. This means playing 3-4 times a week, working out as much as time permits and watching his diet closely.

LaDuca is the newly appointed girls tennis coach at Nardin Academy. I can guarantee you that his expertise, personality, and tennis background will make him a highly successful coach at Nardin.

Jerry Owczarczak: Owczarczak’s mindset is that he wants to win every doubles match that he plays. “I will chase down every shot as hard as I can,” Owczarczak said. “I will always try to get my first serve in even if I have to take some speed off of it.” He also stresses that he has a great deal of patience and tries to keep the ball in play as long as possible.

He also works out or stretches 45 minutes every day of the week and tries to pace himself as much as possible. Jerry’s slight build is very deceiving. His power and selection of shots has made him a very tough opponent to play against.

Ron Maier: Maier has one of the best forehands in his age group, is a real student of the game, and has great speed afoot.

“As I have gotten older, I have learned to play a lot smarter,” he said. “I used to try to hit every shot as hard as I could. Now I try to place my shots to different areas of the court.”

If Maier does get a set up, he will still hit the shot hard for a winner. Maier is also very astute as far as knowing what his strengths and weaknesses are. He then compiles what he feels his opponent’s strong and weak points are and devises a game plan that he feels will lead to success.

In addition to playing 3-4 times a week, he works out 5-6 times a week at a local gym to stay in shape. He is also a strong believer of massages and tries to get at least one or two every month.

Dan Sharpe: Sharpe is the only tennis player in this group who serves and volleys on every serve. “I am very fortunate that I have the mobility to move around as well as I do,” Sharpe said. “If I had to stay on the baseline I would have great difficulty winning points against ground strokers,” Sharpe said. Sharpe is being extremely humble. His groundstrokes are still well hit. However, his net game is his forte.

Sharpe is like the Energizer Bunny. He is always on the go and walks or rides his bike to work 2½ miles a day, each way, five days a week. He also goes on 40- or 50-mile bike rides when he has the time and stretches as much as possible. And he doesn’t even play tennis in the summer, which he spends in New England.

Other Tips

If you haven’t played tennis in quite awhile and are looking to get back to playing, you should proceed very slowly. You could start by hitting with a friend or join one of the many adult tennis classes that most districts have in their recreation programs in Western New York – especially in the summer.

If you want to get more positive advice on where your game is at, you could schedule a short hitting session with one of the many fine teaching pros at Miller Tennis Center, Williamsville (632-8600); South Towns Tennis Club, Orchard Park (662-9936); and Village Glen, Williamsville (633-1635). The pros could also help you in updating your equipment if you haven’t played in quite awhile.