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Charlie Garfinkel’s Rackets: Age no barrier for these fine women’s players

After talking to many women tennis players who are 50 years old or more I am truly impressed with their prowess, conditioning and mental toughness. The following players express their feelings on the aforementioned and other aspects of tennis that shows how important the sport is to their lives.

Cheryl Meyer: Meyer’s forehand stroke is one of the more amazing shots in WNY tennis; regardless of age. Her shot is hit almost flat with incredible pace that results with the tennis ball bouncing low and skidding, making the shot very difficult to return.

Meyer played squash doubles for years and credits the game for developing the fearsome stroke. She is a 4.0 player who holds her own with men and women at that level and above.

She said, “I greatly enjoy playing tennis. Equally important are the many friends I have made, Even though we all want to win we always congratulate each other, win or lose, on our opponents sportsmanship and outstanding play.”

Maria Lapetina: Lapetina started playing tennis when she was 7. It was evident from the start that she was going to be outstanding.

She won the Courier Express 14 & Under Singles Championship and was ranked in the top three in District 14, an area that encompassed Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Three times she was ranked in the area’s top 10 women in The Buffalo News rankings, and she reached the semifinals of the Muny Open Singles twice. She is a 4.5 player who still serves and volleys extremely well. Over the last five years she has played four times in the National USTA Team Championships.

“What I love best about tennis is the competition and camaraderie that the sport provides,” Lapetina said. “However, the highlight of my tennis career was playing in the Father-Daughter National Tennis Championships in Flushing Meadows with my beloved and late father, Dr. Al Lapetina.”

Mary Beth Aquino: Although standing only 5-foot-2, Aquino’s power and court placement are exceptional. For the past seven years Aquino’s husband has been a professor at Niagara University. Three months of the year the Aquinos live in Seattle.

When in Buffalo, Aquino plays singles or doubles almost every day for at least an hour and a half. Even though she hits the ball extremely hard on both her forehand and backhand sides she makes very few errors.

“I am very lucky to be retired and able to play so much,” she said. “The tennis players I play with are not only fine players, they are also great friends and have made my husband and myself feel fortunate to be in such a wonderful area as Western New York.”

Aquino notes that tennis can be played by players at all levels, provides a wonderful workout and often leads to lasting friendships.

Jane Gens: Gens is a teacher in the Brocton school system. She works out every day and tries to play tennis at least three times a week. Her USTA rating ranges between 4.0 and 4.5. She has been playing USTA tournaments for almost 10 years and has played in the nationals once. She complements a strong serve and volley game with extreme steadiness during rallies.

Gens has three children who play tennis. Her daughter Georgie, 17, stars for Fredonia High School at first singles and has gone to the state championships three years in a row. Bernadette, 12, plays second singles behind her sister, and son Neil, 14, plays first singles for the boys team.

Using her expertise, Gens works with children’s game two or three times a week at 5 a.m.

“I feel that getting up that early gives them great discipline and an attitude to succeed both in school and on the tennis court,“ Gens said. “To keep them in top form we work on different drills and strategies that hopefully will improve their games.”

Sue Bedard: Bedard loves to play singles against 4.0 and younger players. She tries to recognize her opponents strengths and weaknesses early in matches.

“I try to formulate a game plan that helps me win,” said Bedard. “Fortunately, I have had very good success playing in this manner.”

Bedard is very quick afoot and follows a healthful eating regimen of gluten-free and dairy-free food. Her role model is Simone Halep, who is ranked in the top 10 women in the world.

“Like Halep I try to be extremely tenacious on the court at all times, use a great variety of shots, and make my opponent work hard for each and every point,” Bedard said.

Maureen Rasp: Rasp tries to play 4-5 times a week. She will play singles for an hour and a half and doubles for 2½ hours. Her incredible physical conditioning started when she was running in marathons, including the Boston and Skylon marathons.

She had played a little tennis on the side in high school and played some badminton and squash in her 20s. In her early 30s she started playing tennis a lot and continued to run almost every day.

“The running has kept me in great shape for playing tennis,” Rasp said. She noted that her game style is to aggressively hit her ground strokes until she gets a shot to put away. She loves competing and having fun.

“Of course I want to win which makes me very happy. However, if I lose I will always congratulate my opponent on playing well.”

Andrea Abels: Abels is the head tennis coach at Buffalo Seminary. The girls on the team are extremely fortunate to have such a caring and concerned mentor.

“I stress to my girls that how they play helps me with my own coaching,” Abels said. “I want them to learn that they are part of a team. I am more concerned with how they play and not always worried about winning or losing.”

Abels is also cognizant that her players show great sportsmanship at all times and if their opponent happens to win, realize that they played better than they did, and congratulate them when the match is over.

As for her own game she is a solid 4.0 player who plays mostly doubles. She has been to numerous USTA sectional and regional championships and has also played in a national championship. She has an exceptional forehand and a great concept as to what the game of doubles is all about.

Gerri Neff: Neff is the assistant tennis coach at Buffalo Seminary. She is 75 years old and rightfully proud of it.

Neff plays doubles four times a week and singles once a week. She will often play as much as three hours a day. She also plays golf, stretches and walks a lot.

“I love helping Andrea coach the tennis team,” Neff said. “It keeps me mentally sharp by diagnosing and teaching kids how to fine tune their tennis games.”

She states that she is a baseline player who approaches the net when the opportunity presents itself. She watches her diet closely, never uses salt, and eats mostly lean meat and fish. Unbelievably, she still plays at a 4.0 level and competes in USTA matches. Abels said: “Gerri is an inspiration to our team and myself. We feel exceptionally fortunate to have her on our coaching staff.”