Who knew that lunch with the Grandma Groupies would lead to this?
A few years back, I wrote about a group of older ladies who play tennis every week and make annual trips to famous locales to watch pro tennis tournaments. The ladies in my article, which appeared in Tennis magazine, were from the Greater Fort Worth area, and I am still friends with them.
A few months ago, I got a call from Arlington Tennis Center regular Dory Habenicht, the head organizer of the group, inviting me to speak at one of their pre-trip luncheons, where I met some new members of the group. One woman, Kendall Lake, was among the younger ladies at the luncheon (well south of 60 years old), and we hit it off. Because of that, my husband, Steve, and I wound up housing a player during the USTA Pro Circuit Classic that just ended its weeklong stay at TCU. Let me explain.
Not long after the Grandma Groupies' trip, this time to Indian Wells, Calif., Kendall attended a dog show with a friend who had housed players during a pro tournament in Delaware. The friend said one of the players she had housed was going to need a place to stay during the TCU Pro Circuit event (click here for the full results), and--you guessed it--Kendall thought of me.
At first, I wondered why anybody would need housing, because I thought the tournaments always provided housing at this level. Pro Circuit events, Futures-level tournaments in particular, include players making comebacks, players just starting out, college kids and sometimes even high school players. The pros and pros of the future at Pro Circuit tournaments, for the most part, aren't exactly loaded with cash.
I called the tournament director, Linda Cappel, and she told me that no housing would be provided for the players, because TCU had learned too recently that it would be hosting the event; TCU was a late addition to the Pro Circuit schedule and got only a couple of months' notice, so she had a point. Also, TCU did provide housing for the officials who flew in for the tournament, and Cappel said that alone was a big job.
I should add that when Kendall alerted me of the need for housing, she didn't necessarily think I would provide it. She mostly wanted to know if TennisFortWorth.com could spread the word of the need, which we did. And some players did find housing, but it was pretty spread out.
We live a mile from the tournament, so our player had it easy. But at least one player stayed all the way in Sherman--more than two whole hours from here each way--and she had to win three rounds of qualifying just to reach the main draw, so she was piling on the miles every day for more than a week. That young lady, Dianne Hollands of New Zealand, wound up getting to the finals of the main-draw singles and doubles, so maybe staying a million miles away isn't so bad...
The young woman who stayed with us was 22-year-old Ukrainian Anastasia Kharchenko, who lives and trains in Jacksonville, Fla., with a loving Christian ministry that has been supporting her for the last five-and-a-half years. “Whatever needs I’ve had, they’ve paid for,” she said.
Kendall's friend, the one who had housed Ana in Delaware, spoke highly of her and said we would have fun and learn a lot. Yes on both counts.
Ana, the third seed, made it to the semifinals, winning a few matches without much trouble but needing three sets to win her quarterfinal, in which she came back from a 6-7, 3-5 deficit. In the semis, she was up, 6-3, 3-0 and looking strong until Dianne--the one driving in from Sherman--turned the tables on the match.
The women took that second set to a tiebreaker, in which Ana managed to get two match points--both of which Dianne saved, but not without a lot of effort. They were both long, nervous points. Dianne then won the set and the one that followed.
Ana was upset but looked at the bright side. Ranked in the 500s two weeks earlier, she reached the quarters at a tournament in New Orleans (before making the nine-hour drive to Fort Worth) and then the semis here at TCU. So now she is ranked in the 400s and has a few more dollars in her pocket--$490 before taxes (it wound up being $320 after taxes) to be exact--but only until she buys her ticket to play in Peru next week.
Ana said the ticket to Peru would cost $1,400 from her home in northern Florida, but she couldn't afford that, even with all the help she gets. So the plan was to ride the bus all the way down to Miami in order to fly out of Miami International, from which the flight would cost $1,000. Her prize money from Fort Worth would offset that, but she would still need help.
Once she gets to Peru, there's also going to be a cab to the bus station to take a bus from Lima to another bus station, and then another cab to the hotel, where she will receive tournament transportation to the site--she thinks the bus ride is about eight hours--and a hotel to pay for. Food? Tennis clothes? Taxis? Money. Money. Money. Everything costs money, and these players don't have it yet, unless they have generous, affluent families or parents who work very, very hard to help pay their way.
Ana says she would love to have a sponsor or two, but they are hard to come by at this level. “Thank God for all my blessings and all the people that got me to where I’m at right now,” she said. “Without them, there is no way I would have made it as far as I have.”
So this whole pro thing is expensive, but we were happy to make it a little bit less expensive for Ana for at least one week. And we would do it again.
Like me, Ana is a slim, athletically built girl with a ravenous appetite, which we discovered at mealtimes and throughout the day. We also quickly figured out that Ana takes her profession very seriously. She is intense almost to the point of being defensive, which I'm sure has a lot to do with why she has already come this far. Her nuclear family remains in the Ukraine, after all, so she, along with her coach, Scott Paschal, is responsible for all elements of her life, which includes getting herself to and from tournaments all over the globe. Paschal, an Arlington native, is the president and founder of the ministry, called ICTA, which stands for International Christian Tennis Association.
She also has a sharp sense of humor and a command of English that is startlingly good for someone who has lived here for just six years. Ana also speaks Russian, Polish, her native Ukrainian and some Spanish.
Her day starts early and includes carefully prepared meals and meal supplements and drinks, and she likes to be prompt and prepared. We wanted to give her all the support we could, so we took her to the grocery store to load up on all the food she would need, and we got up before 7 each morning so Steve could shuttle her to the courts. We picked her up after her workouts and matches, which we attended and thoroughly enjoyed.
Her huge green racket bag was so large and heavy that she couldn't ride a bike to the courts, which we had thought she was going to do before she arrived with that massive bag. I lift weights and do 120 pushups every day, and I struggled just to carry that bag from the TCU pro shop to the parking lot. Ana would strap that thing to her back, even when she had ice bags on her shoulders and wrists, and march to the car without complaining.
She watched Olympic tennis in our little TV room, and during dinner in our tiny dining room-built-for-two she taught us how to pronounce the names of her fellow Eastern European players and how to tell a Russian from a Ukrainian from a Czech by examining the suffixes of their names.
She also told us about her life as the top-ranked junior in the Ukraine when she was 14 and some of the difficult challenges that followed. By the grace of God, she says, she was led to the International Christian Tennis Association, whose organizers and members are the people she now considers family. You can read her story on their website.
We are glad Ana found her way to our home during the USTA Pro Circuit Classic. Steve and I gained a fresh perspective on what it takes to be a pro, what it takes to try to make it on one's own on the pro tour and how life's unpleasant turns sometimes help you find your way.
Thanks again to the Grandma Groupies for enriching my life. Keep doing what you're doing, ladies--and let's have lunch again real soon at Dory's house.