Cayman’s tennis fans must still be beaming after enjoying another fabulous weekend of serve and volleying mixed with cavorting with the stars.
It was the fifth running of the annual Cayman Classic, organised by Ritz-Carlton developer Michael Ryan, and nobody left disappointed. From ball boys to curious visitors to seasoned pros, everybody had a smile on their face. Biggest grin came from Len Layman, president of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, who benefited from the funds raised by the event to the tune of $77,000. ‘This is fantastic,’ he said. ‘Last year was the highest and that was $50,000 so this year it is more than 50 per cent more. It will help us to keep the centre open and hopefully, we’ll be able to expand some of our outreach programmes.’ The centre is a refuge for abused women and their children. It gets financial help from the government but needs support from the private sector to operate efficiently.
The weekend’s fun started on Friday night with a wear white beach party and introduction of all the stars. Former world beaters who made the trip included Brian Gottfried, Petr Korda, Johan Kriek, David MacPherson, Gene Mayer, Lori McNeil, Jeff Tarango and Jana Novotna. Local pros Thomas Neuert, who is the Ritz tennis director and Eduardo Torres were also involved. Autograph hunters were treated to the presence of Bill and Guiliana Rancic, best known respectively as the first winner of The Apprentice (2004) and presenter on E! News. The gorgeous Shannon Doherty passed through and so did hilarious actress/comedienne Mary Lynn Rajskub.
A series of pro-am games culminated in the finals on Sunday afternoon. In between there was a grand ball in the Ritz’s ballroom with a special performance by Chris Isaak and clinics for kids and adults clinics. Topped off with exhibition matches, games and crafts, it was a tennis nut’s delight.
The matches were all played in good humour – even the finals. Well, actually the finals still had a competitive edge. You could tell as their serving grunts got louder than the previous day and volleys were more intense. Funniest game involved Rajskub, a total non-player, who was as comical as one of her characters in a match with Eddie Dibbs against Mayer and Kenneth Leese. Dibbs often scrambled around the court trying to field every shot as Rajskub looked on bemused. No prizes for guessing who won.
Kriek, 49, is a former world No.4. He had a nightmare 30-hour journey from Johannesburg involving four planes and losing his luggage. But he would not miss this for the world. ‘I had to be in South Africa because I was inducted on Wednesday into the South African Sports Hall of Fame and the only flight I could get out was Thursday night to Washington. Got there 8am and finally reached Cayman late Friday evening. It’s always a fun event. I’ve done it for seven years and didn’t want to break my record. We actually lost with my partner by the skin of our teeth in the semis. It was still fun and great to be amongst friends and players I used to play with. Gene Mayer, Eddie Dibbs and Petr Korda I used to play with. Gene and Eddie are like me, part of the old gang.
‘It’s not too bad to come and listen to Chris Isaak in a private place, hear him sing and entertain us. Great beach party too.’
Mayer, 51, still plays senior events and coaching. Another former world No.4, he claims he doesn’t play so well now but does events like this to ensure he isn’t too unfit for serious tennis. ‘Youngsters always want to see what I can do and if I haven’t played and hit three balls then I’m in a hospital!
‘So I work out and play quite a bit to stay healthy. I played here last year. It’s a lovely facility. It couldn’t get any more beautiful. There’s a good turnout and kids here enjoy being ball boys. It would be great to get some more tennis interest and kindle some interest into getting to be players with a little more serious programme.’
Like zillions of others, Mayer loves Cayman’s climate. ‘We were up in the morning, 5.30, and it’s 20 degrees in New York and we arrive here and it’s tropical breeze 85, so I’d love to come back and spend some more time.’
Mayer and Leese, another former pro, defeated Neuert and Benjamin Pauluhn 6-4 in the doubles. Mayer enjoyed the victory but admits it could easily have gone the other way and the pros would have been embarrassed. ‘Doubles, one set, just a few points and no way ahead. And then you throw in a bit of the tropical breeze. The amateurs are good players already, so but for a few points here and there, it could have slipped away.’
Ryan, a useful player himself, was the defending champion but he went out in the semis with Jimmy Arias, losing to Mayer and Leese.
In the mixed doubles final Kathy Rinaldi and Jay Berger beat Gottfried and Novotna 6-4. American Gottfried joked that they lost because Novotna was instructing him in Czech.
Final word deserves to come from Layman. ‘It was a fantastic weekend. Michael Ryan and the Ritz outdid last year, it just keeps getting better and better. From our point of view at the crisis centre, we rely on public donations to keep us open, so an event like this is not only fine and involves the community, it raises a lot of money. That makes it important to us.
‘This event not only raises awareness in the fact that we need funds, but it raises awareness throughout the community which means that individuals who may need our services are now more aware of the fact that we are there to help them.’