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The Place To Play
by Mark Winters

   

I have been coming to Portschach, Austria since the early Ď80ís. My fondest recollections include a view of the WŲrther Sea, which is the pristine twelve mile long by one mile wide fresh water lake and the fact that there are countless tennis courts in the area. Because they are so plentiful, Portschach has become the home of International Tennis Federation Veterans Cup competitions.

It is also recognized as "the place to play" during June. Annually, the Werzer Tennis Club hosts two events featuring many of the best players in the game. This year was no exception as IC members Ed Baumer, Bob Duesler, Fred Kovaleski, Jason Morton, Hugh Stewart and Ralph Wilson participated in the 19th International Austrian Werzer Cup Championships and a week later, the 45th International European Veterans Championships.

Though Baumer was active on the court, reaching the semifinals in the Menís 80 doubles, with Australian Bill Rogers, in the first event and the final, again with Rogers, in the second, he was even busier off the terre battue, spreading the word concerning the Aloha Senior Championships that will be held in Honolulu in December.

Prior to Portschach, Duesler and his wife Skip followed a travel schedule that has become their "spring get away" since he stopped teaching school six years ago. Karolovy Vary (a.k.a. Karlsbad) in the Czech Republic was their first stop, where he won both the Menís 65 singles and doubles (with Pavel Pavlik of Germany). Moving on to Austria, he was a finalist to Klaus Fuhrmann of Germany, and the doubles winner (with Pavlik) at the Austrian Championships. He was a semifinalist to Fuhrmann, who again won the tournament, at the European Championships. In the doubles, Duesler/Pavlik were semifinalists.

"In my first match against Fuhrmann, I didnít know what to do," Duesler admitted. "I was uncomfortable, a bit lost. In the second, I was much better. I like playing on clay, but I need to do it a lot more to be effective against guys who have grown up playing on it."

Austria in the spring always means a Kovaleski encounter. Fred, accompanied by his wife Mayna, has played the circuit for more than 10 years. An IC vice-president, he was the Menís 75 winner at lead-up events at Cervia, Italy, and Karolovy Vary.

He swept the singles and doubles at the Austrian Championships, and repeated the double, only in this case it was as a finalist, at the European Championships. Stewart, (who is playing with two "new knees" and was a Menís 75 singles and doubles winner at Cervia and Karolovy Vary), was insightful as he watched Kovaleski drop a three hour, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 encounter to Laci Legenstein of Austria.

"Laci is something else," he admitted. "He is a Yugoslav, who lives in Limen, Germany and plays for Austria. You can never finish him off. He keeps you moving and never gives up.

He is small, and quicker afoot than Fred and I. When you are tired and as big as we are, he is very tough to beat. He also has great racquet control."  

Stewart continued, "The other day, Legenstein was given an award for playing here 48 years ago, in 1954. I told him, I first played here in 1953. Just after I said that, a guy who was standing near us admitted he came to Portschach, before the War, in 1936. At sixteen, he rode his bicycle across Austria -- it took him two days -- just to get here."

Following his victory, Legenstein said of Kovaleski, "We always have good matches. In doubles, we are the ĎDream Teamí. We donít play together often, but when we do nobody comes close."

Stewart was a Menís 70 singles quarterfinalist at both Portschach events. Playing with Morton, a finalist in each of the singles, he won the Austrian Championship doubles and was a semifinalist at the European Championships. "Iíve been coming here for between 15 and 20 years," Morton said. "Iíve reached the stage where two weeks of tennis is enough. Anymore and itís draining."

While he was happy with his play, Morton was even less content with the USTA/ITF decision to hold international team competitions in alternate years. "You get to the age I am and every year, every month makes a huge difference," he said. "It is really a shame with all we have given to the game that they made up their minds to take away a year to save money. There are so many ways to do it better. There has to be someone in the USTA who can raise money for senior tennis. I have two loves in my life--my wife and tennis. It is hard to paint a picture for a younger person. In 1998, the doctors gave me five more years. Taking one year away means so much to me and everyone else."

His wife and tennis are usually part of every conversation with Morton. "At this stage, we all have something wrong, we just donít remember what it is," he said smiling. "The other day, I walked into the house and said ĎHi, Ethelí. My wife looked at me and said, ĎMy nameís Edithí." (Fortunately, his motherís name was Ethel).

Wilson not only played the Portschach tournaments, he and his wife Mary sponsored the Friendship Cup (held during the Austrian Championships) for the second year running. The competition involved a Womenís 75 team from the U.S. (members were selected in a drawing held at the national championships last fall) against a European contingent. In this go-round, the U.S. came out on the short end of the 15-12 score. In Menís 80 doubles action, Wilson and Bob Sherman were semifinalists at the Austrian Championships and European Championships.

Perceptions are rarely similar among those taking part in tournaments. Portschach is an exception. "Iíve played all over the world and this is one of the most beautiful spots Iíve ever been in," Morton concluded. "They know how to run a tournament. The clay is great. Even more important, the people are very gracious."

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