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Courtesy of Youssef Bouzidi
Roanoke/Lynchburg 5.0 Plus men’s national championship team: (from left) Youssef Bouzidi, Kyle Allen, Drew Robinson, Mark Vines, Peter Pristach, Tommy McDonald and Derek Myers.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
When the final lob was true — clinching the game, set, match and national championship for the guys from Virginia — the entire team hopped the 2-foot fence at Indian Wells Tennis Garden and formed a teeming mob on the court.
A teeming-yet-cautious mob, that is.
“Everybody managed to stay on their feet, fortunately,” said Derek Myers, director of tennis at Roanoke Country Club. “We were the oldest team there, so if we went down, somebody’s going to break a hip, probably.”
For the seven-member API Funds 5.0 Plus squad from Roanoke and Lynchburg — average age, 44 — the Sept. 28 victory over Texas capped a three-year quest to bring a title home from the USTA National Tennis Championships. They became the first squad from the area to do it, winning six matches in California to claim the USTA’s highest-level sanctioned team event.
“They’re a really good group,” said team captain Dave Basten of Lynchburg, who assembled the players three years ago and is the managing director of the investment firm that sponsors the squad. “Normally when you get players that are that good, they have a chip on their shoulder or are arrogant. These are some of the most humble guys you’ll meet.”
The caliber of competition demanded both humility and focus. Many of the team’s opponents in the nationals were just out of college or still in it. Meanwhile, the API Funds squad featured three players (co-captain Mark Vines, Boonsboro Country Club head pro Peter Pristach and Boonsboro Country Club director of tennis Drew Robinson) in their 50s.
The four Roanoke Valley players — Myers, Hidden Valley Country Club head pro Kyle Allen, former Radford University standout Youssef Bouzidi and ex-East Carolina standout Tommy McDonald — range in age from 28 to 41.
Experience, skill, depth and sound strategy combined to make the difference. In each of the six matches, API Funds won two out of the three courts — in other words, the team was pushed to the limit every time.
Each match consisted of one singles duel and two doubles events. Basten, coordinating the lineup by phone from Lynchburg, masterfully rotated the players to keep them fresh and create the most favorable encounters, relying on scouting reports he culled from the Internet and tennis contacts around the country.
“He knows what they do, what they eat, where they sleep,” Bouzidi said. “Seriously — he knew so much about the other teams.”
Joked Myers: “He should be a detective part time.”
A 38-year-old accountant for Roanoke and Botetourt Athletic Clubs, Bouzidi defeated a 23-year-old from Texas in the last singles match, 6-2, 6-0. Bouzidi’s relentless baseline style was the perfect antidote to an opponent playing his sixth singles match in three days.
“He’s the last person you want to play,” Myers said of Bouzidi. “Because you’re going to run to places on the court you didn’t even realize were there. I think he just worked him to death, until he had nothing left.”
Six of these players were on a team that made it to nationals in 2011 only to bow out in pool play. The rules prevent more than two players from a national qualifier to return the following year, so they knew this was their big chance.
“I was targeting nationals since two years ago we lost,” said Allen, a former Roanoke College standout who won several key matches. “I made sure I taught a ton of lessons last summer just so I had more time this summer to get ready.”
Basten also added Myers, a former All-Big Ten performer at Purdue who once ranked as high as seventh in the NCAA in doubles.
“He was a great addition to the team,” Bouzidi said. “I don’t think we would have won without him. Two years ago, we all said, ‘We need one more person.’ He was the right guy.”
Myers and McDonald excelled in doubles at districts, sectionals and nationals, but they fell in a tiebreaker against Texas in the finals. That left matters to the duo of Pristach and Robinson, who rallied from behind in both sets to clinch it, 7-5, 7-5.
Cue the teeming yet cautious mob, the start of a celebration that figures to linger for weeks.
“I’m the second youngest even though I’m 36,” Myers said. “Having played my whole life, you don’t know how many of these types of moments you have left. When you get to your mid- to late 30s — let alone some of the guys in their 40s or 50s — how many more of these types of celebratory moments of being triumphant do you have?
“So for me to be a part of it, knowing what these guys went through two years ago? It’s hard to put into words, really.”
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