Tennis is fun in any language

Amid shouts of 'allez' & 'vamos,' the River Forest Collegiate Invitational put on quite a show

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By Marty Farmer

Sports Editor

Any tennis fan, or even casual sports follower, had to be aware of the remarkable occurrences that took place in the world of tennis over the weekend.

At the U.S. Open in New York, Serena Williams' bid for the first Grand Slam in women's tennis since Steffi Graf accomplished the feat in 1988 was derailed by Roberta Vinci 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals.

For those keeping score at home, Vinci was a 300-to-1 shot to win the match.

Almost predictably, Vinci proceeded to lose in the final to fellow Italian and Cinderella story Flavia Pennetta who announced her retirement after winning the title, 7-6, 6-2.

The men's final offered a much more palatable and expected matchup, pitting World No. 1 Novak Djokovic against World No. 2 Roger Federer. Djokovic prevailed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

While the pro tennis action in New York was historic, unpredictable, riveting and just flat-out fun, tennis was also served at the River Forest Tennis Club over the weekend.

The club hosted the River Forest Collegiate Invitational, which annually features an impressive collection of Division I men's college tennis teams, including in-state programs University of Illinois Chicago, De Paul and Northern Illinois.

Matches were also held at the Oak Park Tennis Center as a secondary location for the tournament.

With all due respect to Djokovic, Federer and Serena, I had an even better time watching these college players duke it out on RFTC's clay courts for the better part of three days.

A few observations: First, tennis is an incredibly competitive sport. I understand that's no revelation but virtually all the players in the tournament moved around the court like squirrels and pulverized the ball with consistent power, angle and spin. Yet the reality is none of these players will likely get a sniff of life on the ATP tour.

On the bright side, they are earning a college education while playing a sport they love. Many of them are accomplishing this goal far away from home. I was intrigued by the number of foreign players on each team's roster.

I interviewed talented players like Morehead State juniors Ritchie Kruuenberg from Nieuw-Vennep, Netherlands and Gabriel Ruiz from Tarija, Bolivia; Belmont senior Robin DeMasse from St. Jean de Braye, France; and Caio Niel from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Kruuenberg offered an answer reflective of many international players' decision to play college tennis in America.

"It's a perfect way to combine your studies and tennis on a high level," Kruuenberg said. "Tennis is our passion. Back home the opportunities to keep playing tennis are not as good. I think just the overall experience of being away from your parents, meeting new people and experiencing life in another country is invaluable. You grow up and become really independent."

Keeping things on an international level, I was amused during the matches how players would often shout, "Let's go!" in their native language after making a great shot — "allez" and "vamos" in French and Spanish, respectively, were ubiquitous during competition.

Until next year, guys, au revoir, adios and auf wiedersehen.


Editor's note: Special thanks to Tournament Director John Griffin and all the RFTC volunteers and staff who were so hospitable and helpful during the tournament. And to all the coaches and players from the respective men's tennis programs that competed in the tourney, best of luck for the rest of the season!

Email: Twitter: @OakParkSports

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