May/19

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Lawyer Challenges ATP Pros in Tallahassee

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By Scoop Malinowski

One of the many appeals of ATP Challenger level tennis is how accessible the players are in much smaller, more intimate venues. Any fan can strike up a conversation with any player, talk about past matches, their journeys…or even make a friendly challenge to a practice match.

Tallahassee lawyer James Waczewski did just that. He offered four ATP pros a few hundred bucks to play sets with him in Tallahassee. They all obliged. Here is the exclusive story…

Question: Please tell us how you were able to challenge three ATP top 500 pros on the tennis court during the Tallahassee Challenger?

James Waczewski: At first, I requested one of the tennis pros at the facility to talk to the players and try to set this up. When, by the third day, nothing was happening, I took matters into my own hands. I was lucky right away. I got to the main Court where Sekou Bangoura was playing Andrea Collarini. As soon as I got there, I saw Chris Mahoney, an older guy in his 70s with whom I hit sometimes. I went to say hello and I told him I was there to try to find a pro I could play against. By luck, Boris Arias, the doubles partner of Bangoura – they did not qualify to play in the doubles tournament – was sitting next to him and overheard our conversation. Chris looked at him and said: He may be interested. Boris said: “Sure.” I got his number, and we agreed to set a match for the next day. Boris is not in the top 300 in singles. While we were setting up the match, I asked Boris to ask Sekou, who lost to Collarini in three sets, if he would play me as well. Boris checked with him and Sekou said yes. So I arranged to pay both of them at a nearby private high school. I informed one of the high school tennis team player’s about this, and he also showed up and was able to hit with them.

I have read a lot about tennis and I know that the men and women in the tennis “minor leagues” make very little money and have huge costs as they try to go up in their rankings. I thought this would be a great opportunity to help these guys out while have an awesome experience. It was worth every penny, and more.

As for the other two players, I made first contact with Martin Cuevas while he was watching Federico Coria play. Cuevas noticed that I was wearing an Argentina National Soccer Team shirt and we struck a conversation about Argentina – Cuevas is from Uruguay but lives in Buenos Aires. He helped me arrange the match against Coria. After I played Coria – I thought I was done. But on a whim I asked Cuevas if he would play me as well, and he agreed – he was already out of the tournament after losing to Tommy Paul in the second round.

Q: Did anything surprise you about this experience?

JW: Lots. First of all, these guys were very approachable and actually appreciated what I did. I was surprised that they went along with my request to film the match for my YouTube Channel (FITerer Tennis), and that they even agreed to play along with my “trash talk tennis” theme. They seemed to have a lot of fun and that made my experience even more satisfactory.

Q: Was there a highlight of this special experience?

JW: It is hard to tell. I enjoyed every second of every one of the four matches. Certainly, hitting a crazy winner return – what you called a Marcelo Rios Carve – Cuevas called a “Gillete”, and I renamed as a FITerer Gillete – the ball went over to Cuevas side and came back to my side without Cuevas touching it – off a Cuevas first serve was an awesome highlight. I got a few cheers from other pros when I would win a good point against Cuevas, several were practicing on either side of our court.

Q: Do you feel playing with the best players in the world helped your game in any way? If so, how?

JW: Absolutely. First of all, I am hoping that some of their awesomeness rubbed off on me. Second, it is a much better experience to watch the pros while they are playing against you. Cuevas took the match seriously and served several booming first serves. I could not believe it that eventually I started to be able to return some of those. It was nice to observe first hand Coria’s strategy – to simply not do too much, but never miss. He just let me beat myself. I only got three points off him. He was amazing without playing big.

Q: How long have you been playing? How did you start?

JW: I grew up playing soccer, including in high school and college (University Central Florida). I took six months of classes when I was five years old. So every once in a while I would play around with friends. I had a serious period during my UCF years when I met then 11-year-old Rodrigo Nascimento. He was passionate about tennis and I would play with him often. But I took up tennis seriously about nine years ago, when my then 10-year old daughter fell in love with the game and started to play in tennis tournaments. I had always wanted to get more serious about tennis, and someone introduced me to the ladders at the global tennis network website. I joined, started making my way up, and got really into it. I retired from recreational soccer three years ago and now play only tennis, although recently I started to get back into soccer via FootGolf SF – footgolf on a soccer field, a game that I invented.

Q: Why do you love tennis?

JW: I always hated running and exercise unless I was playing a sport. I would never feel like I was running while I was playing soccer. I never feel tired while my competitive drive is being fed. And I have terrific memories from my best days as a soccer player, including several “hero” moments. Tennis feeds my competitive drive and gets me moving, but it is much better than soccer in the sense that you are involved in every single play, in singles. As I got older, the risk of injuries playing contact soccer increased. Playing time decreased with age. I did not feel like playing slow soccer against older guys. Tennis gives me the opportunity to make my way up and play better players as I get better. I get to play against young guys, even high school players, and I often out-run them and out-last them. And, of course, watching the great pros in person at the US Open and the Miami Open showed me how beautiful the game can be as your skills improve. It was a great inspiration – and I am still working hard to play to take my game to the next level.

Check out and subscribe to James’ You Tube Channel FITerer Tennis.

 

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19 comments

  • Phil Sanders · May 3, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    James,
    Good on ya mate! Great for the game and fun videos! Go FITterer !

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 3, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    Yes it really was an interesting thing James created by his own brainchild and self motivation and follow through actions. Intriguing pioneering pursuit that as far as I know, has never been done before.

  • chris mahoney · May 3, 2019 at 11:25 pm

    I was happy to be part of the process,but this was all James.It was a creative idea played out with panache and heart.
    Let’s hope it becomes a tradition on the Challenger circiut.

  • catherine · May 4, 2019 at 2:09 am

    Off topic but no tournament thread as yet – interesting interviews on WTA site with Tursunov, re Sabalenka’s dip in form, and Fisette on Azarenka’s resurgance. Wim’s time with Kerber seems to be airbrushed out and you get the feeling everyone’s happier with that. No interview with Schuettler – maybe he didn’t put himself forward.

    Lots of good players in Madrid but some of them in dubious physical shape.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 4, 2019 at 7:27 am

    Catherine, I am very curious to read what Tursunov says about Sabalenka’s stunted progress after such a good 2018. Hope his job is not in jeopardy for being too honest. Unbelievable Wawrinka is a heroic figure now because of his bravery to tell it like it is, shame that some people are actually trying to demonize him with false allegations.

  • catherine · May 4, 2019 at 8:17 am

    https://www.wtatennis.com/news/dmitry-tursunov-aryna-sabalenkas-sophomore-season-its-growing-pains

    Unfortunately Aryna is on her way out first round in Madrid. Clay’s not her surface so I hope things get better for her as the season moves on. I’m sure her coach’s job isn’t at risk. Sabalenka seems a nice girl.

    I responded to the criticism of Stan lower down. He did nothing wrong.

  • catherine · May 4, 2019 at 10:43 am

    16 dfs didn’t help Sabalenka. Overreaching through nerves ? Kasatkina loses again. I wish she could find a decent coach who can inspire her.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 4, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Sabalenka, Zverev, Dimitrov, are the three biggest underachievers in tennis right now.

  • Jg · May 4, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    What happened to Agassi and Dimitrov

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 4, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    Agassi still helps him, doesnt travel so much. Dimitrov thanked AA this week for “being in my corner.”

  • catherine · May 5, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    FAA bts Shapo in 2 in Madrid. Kyrgios goes out to Struff.

    No big surprises in WTA except Ostspenko wins a match and Svitolina and Muguruza both lose.

  • Hartt · May 5, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    As you can imagine, I watched the FAA vs Shapo match very closely. I expected Félix to win, because I think he is the better player on clay. I was rooting for him, he is the player I always root for now, but I wanted Denis to make it a closer match. He did get to a 2nd set TB, so that set was much better than the first.

    Félix shouldn’t be a big threat to Rafa – he is an 18-year-old kid in his first year on the main tour, up against the King of Clay. I just hope he isn’t too nervous. Remember how he had a Rafa poster on his wall when Denis was staying with him and his family? Denis wanted the poster taken down before he had to play against Rafa at the Rogers Cup, and of course went on to shock everyone, including himself, by winning the match. Only Mme Auger gave Denis a chance, saying he could be staying with them for a while longer.

  • Vijay K · May 5, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    Good article. I think this is something all the Challenger tournaments should offer. A matching service with locals. I’m sure there are lots of parents who’d like their kids to hit with pros and talk to them for a bit. And people like James too who are willing to pay some. It’s a win-win. The matching is the hard part. Can you suggest challenger organizers to offer this service to local players?

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 5, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. James exhibited major initiative to pull this off. If he keeps doing this, he could accumulate enough material for a very interesting book. Bug respect to innovators and go getters.

  • catherine · May 6, 2019 at 1:49 am

    Not sure which is a thread for Madrid but I’ll use this one as the one below is long.

    Good interview with Sascha and Kiki about their partnership – .

    https://www.wtatennis.com/news/sascha-bajin-and-kristina-mladenovic-discuss-new-partnership-we-book-our-flights-sunday

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 6, 2019 at 7:57 am

    Both Kiki and Big Sa saying all the right things, let’s see if Big Sa can keep up his impeccable record of success, and if this player finally gives him his just due credit and not call him a hitting partner. Curious to know which players made all the offers to hire Big Sa?

  • Vijay · May 6, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    It’s worth noting that Challengers already provide a matching service, with local families who host the players. It shouldn’t be too much harder to figure out which players are willing to spend a little time with locals, and for how much. It’s gauche to talk about prices in polite company, but fortunately, we already know something about these prices, thanks to James. So, the rest is just about matching players with the different people (older players, kids, etc).

    Having this as an additional source of income would make Challengers and Futures less of a financial drain for some of these players.

  • Matty · May 9, 2019 at 2:04 am

    Go to the pdf format of any Challenger draw sheet. These pros are literally starving. I thought about doing it once at my local Challenger, but chickened out!

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 9, 2019 at 9:02 am

    Matty, James proved these players will oblige you but also give you no mercy on the court so you better bring some game. 🙂

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