It’s not a famous tournament, and neither prize money nor ranking points were at stake. Nonetheless, Helena Malinakova, a college professor from Lawrence, Kansas, drove 10 hours to Waco, Texas, to play the Waco Central Texas September UTR last month. Like many UTR-driven competitions, this event used no age or gender categories, so the 50-year-old Malinakova ended up playing teenagers. She lost to a couple of highly rated junior girls, Bella Nguyen and Michelle Shen. But Ms. Malinakova also posted a straight-set 6-2, 7-5 victory over Eric Knoll, a 14-year-old boy whose father, Matt Knoll, coaches the Baylor University men’s team.
“For the most part, it was insanely competitive, with unbelievably tight matches.”
“Helena was more than twice as old as anyone in her draw,” says tournament director Brit Coleman, director of tennis at the Waco Regional Tennis and Fitness Center, which hosted the tourney. So why travel so far to hit tennis balls? Level-based play via UTR makes it all worthwhile. “Since Kansas is not really a hotbed for high-level senior singles competition, I have very few opportunities to play competitive matches against players my age, aside from the very few USTA Category I and II national tournaments that I manage to fit into my work schedule,” Malinakova explains. “I am used to practicing and competing with a group of high school and college players out of Topeka Country Club, so playing against the ‘kids,’ boys or girls, feels pretty familiar. I am a big fan of the UTR rating system and tournaments based on it. It provides a
n absolutely ideal opportunity to develop all aspects of your game, in an environment that is a perfect balance between a practice match and a ‘super-stressful’ national championship. And mixing the play between genders is fantastic! It promotes more variety in adjusting your game to opponents with more broadly distributed strengths.”
The Czech-born Malinakova, who was a highly competitive junior player up to age 15, is an “old school” athlete who played lots of serve-and-volley points in Waco against her young opponents, who probably had never seen any such thing on a court. Result: a good time was had by all.
“We have to educate the adults on what UTR is and what it can do for them as well as for their kids.”
The tournament, which attracted 85 entrants, 60 of them for singles, organized competition into four-person round robins that brought together players with similar UTRs. The result was that “for the most part, it was insanely competitive, with unbelievably tight matches,” Coleman says. “We had so many split sets, even at the lower levels. Everybody I’ve talked to is absolutely thrilled.”
Regarding UTR, “the kids get it, for sure,” Coleman says. “We have to educate the adults on what UTR is and what it can do for them as well as for their kids.” That educational process will go forward with the help of a local coach, Troy Simonek of Midway High School, a seminal figure in bringing UTR to Waco who partnered with Coleman to stage other UTR events in August and September. “We plan to run one UTR event every month,” Coleman says. “We will do eight of them, and he will do four.”
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