Their moment in the sun

Amateurs share court with pros as both raise $50,000 for Cayman Islands Crisis Center

Peter Korda

Peter Korda of the Czech Republic in action during the pro exhibition singles final Sunday. He went on to defeat Justin Gimelstob of the United States. Photo: Guy P. Harrison

It is difficult to know who enjoyed last weekend’s pro-am tennis tournament more. Lunging and grunting on clay courts, the amateurs glowed with joy as they lifted their game in the shadows of their heroes. They dug a little deeper with each set to create memories worth far more than the price of admission. The pros clearly enjoyed themselves as well, energized by the camaraderie and respect shown by their amateurs partners. And, of course, both simply loved a good game of tennis on a cool Caribbean afternoon.

The action was good on Saturday and great on Sunday. A thrilling pro-am doubles final and an impressive singles exhibition match between pros Justin Gimelstob of the US and Peter Korda of the Czech Republic capped a memorable weekend. The Charity Tennis Weekend succeeded off the court as well. Michael Ryan, the event’s organizer, certainly can’t complain. First he won the pro-am doubles final playing alongside David MacPherson, then had the pleasure of playing Santa Clause early by giving the Cayman Islands Crisis Center $50,000 raised by the three-day event. Ryan vowed to continue the Charity Tennis Weekend as a fundraiser for the center that fights domestic abuse in the Cayman Islands and assists victims of it.

‘Initially we wanted to pick a different charity every year to raise funds for,’ Ryan explained. ‘But once we got involved with the Crisis Center and saw what an amazing job they do and what a huge unspoken problem domestic abuse is in our community we decided to stick with them as the recipient of the money we raise. Domestic abuse is just not right and we felt we have to do something about it. The fact that I have three daughters makes it clear to me that I should try to help improve this problem in Cayman. We will keep doing this until the Cayman Islands Crisis Center doesn’t need us anymore.’

Len Layman, chairman of the board of directors for the Center, says the money raised by the Charity Tennis Weekend is not only appreciated, it is critical to their operation.

‘We have a budget of about $400,000 per year and that’s just to keep our doors open,’ said Layman. ‘We have a grant that we get from government each year that is $200,000. So that means we have to be out there raising money from the community in order to make up the difference and be able to do what we need to do. This event is a godsend to us. We are very thankful to Michael Ryan and all the participants in this great event.’

Ryan was ecstatic about the field of pros assembled for this year’s edition of the annual tournament. Included were several of the sport’s most successful athletes. The mix of playing tennis with stars and doing a good deed to boot was a dream come true for him.

‘I’ve been fortunate to play in a lot of great pro-ams over the years and would say that this is certainly the best collection of pros that I’ve seen anywhere,’ said Ryan. ‘It’s nothing to do with me; they were all excited about coming to Cayman. The Ritz-Carlton and the Cayman Islands are able to attract these guys. They’ve all told me that they are blown away by how nice it is here-and these are guys who have been all over the world. To have this come off so well and raise a good amount of money for the Crisis Center is just great.’

Peter Korda, Australian Open champion in 1998, is supposed to be past his prime at age 37 but he didn’t show any rusty here. Korda wowed onlookers with his precision shots, amazing court awareness and seemingly eternal endurance.

‘I have had an excellent time here in the Cayman Islands,’ said a beaming Korda after defeating Justin Gimelstob in the pro singles final on Sunday. ‘This was my last match here on the island and I wanted to come out with a victory. I lost all my [doubles] matches in the pro-am tournament so I really wanted to get that win. We had a hell of a good time here and I’m very glad we helped to raise some money for a good cause. That’s most important.’

Nick Bollettieri, the legendary coach who has helped nine number-ones reach the summit, said he was impressed with the Charity Tennis Weekend. ‘This is an excellent event and I’m glad to see that it is doing some good for the Cayman Islands,’ he said. ‘I commend Michael Ryan for putting it on.’

On Sunday Bollettieri addressed the fans and shared with them his latest mission: fighting obesity among the young. He said he and his wife are actively involved in sponsoring groups of young people who are struggling with obesity.

‘Obesity is going to make AIDS look like the common cold if we don’t do something about it,’ he said. ‘It has become a deadly epidemic and we need to get kids interested in being fit and healthy.’

Bollettieri is credited with putting players such as Andre Agassi and Monica Seles on the road to greatness. He also is the force behind the successful and respected Bollettieri Academy in the US. Bollettieri designed the tennis program for the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. The worldclass facility boasts three clay courts and one grass court.

One of the many stars who improved their game at Bollettieri’s school was a young Justin Gimelstob. Today he is a full-grown 6-foot-five-inch powerhouse and one of the world’s best doubles players. In 1998 he won the Australian Open Doubles crown and then took the French Open mixed doubles with Venus Williams. Gimelstob had a blast during his stay in the Cayman Islands.

‘It has been absolutely fantastic here,’ he said. ‘I want to say thank you to Mr. Ryan for having us out. I really enjoyed the [Ritz-Carlton] facility and it was great to see some of the old-timers playing. The Cayman Islands are beautiful. We went to Stingray City on the boat and it was a lot of fun. It’s so nice here. We all loved it.’

The Caymanian Compass will publish official results from the Charity Tennis Weekend upon availability.

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