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Smashing Success: Tennis Nations

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Any way you spin it, DB’s much loved Tennis Nations Cup is sure to provide an ace time for all this month. Beverly Au talks to top players and club coaches

Held on the weekend of March 5 at the Discovery Bay Recreation Cub (DBRC), the 23rd Tennis Nations Cup is about to serve up a big slice of fun for DB tennis players representing their country, and their legions of fans.

Tennis has always been one of the best loved and well supported sports in Discovery Bay, and this year’s event promises to be another smashing success. Each team is comprised of eight men and four women players, with 20 different national teams digging deep to bring sporting glory to their home country. An annual highlight for spectators, in addition to the court-side carnival, is that players dress up in fun, and often highly amusing, national costume.

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Game on

Players to watch this year include Alex Yang and Kyoko Funo, representing Korea and Japan, and Richard Beck, who is captaining Team Australia. Alex and Richard have both played for the DBRC’s men’s A+ Team in the Hong Kong Tennis Association night league, while Kyoko plays in top-tier day and night league women’s teams for DB. All three have been eagerly hitting the courts these past few weeks preparing for this year’s event.

“I like the camaraderie and the country spirit of the Nations Cup,” says Alex, an 11-year DB resident and 10-time Nations Cup participant. “The DB tennis community likes to get outside and play tennis together. It’s more fun with more people. In past years, there has been a good spirit. People sometimes get a little nit-picky with line calls but everything is settled on court and everyone has fun afterwards.

“It is also nice to have something to celebrate. Everyone looks forward to it and it is great because it brings neighbours together,” Alex adds.

As each team has just 12 players and a few reserves, not everyone gets to play. Each team captain has his own way of picking players – whether on a first-come-first enrolment basis, or purely based on talent. “The event is so popular that we had to cut a few people from our team this year,” Alex reveals, “so we drew names out of a hat.”

Richard, who will be playing in his 12th Nations Cup this year, says Team Australia’s preparations have included practice sessions and, appropriately enough, a team barbeque. “The Nations Cup is a great opportunity to bring people together and have a bit of competitive spirit,” he says. “We enjoy getting players who haven’t played in a while to join in. As people are representing their country, the tournament always brings out this competitiveness.”

Kyoko played for Italy in the 2015 Nations Cup but will be representing her native Japan this year in her second attempt at lifting the trophy. “It’s a great time and the standard of the matches is good,” the bubbly three-year DB resident says enthusiastically. “I like playing with different people. The tournament is like a festival and I enjoy the food from all over the world that is served at the court-side carnival.”

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How it works

The Nations Cup is played over a weekend and each day has a different playing format.

On the Saturday, the 20 teams vying for the cup are randomly separated into four groups of five teams. Each team plays a match against each of the other teams in their group, with each match consisting of one men’s doubles set and one women’s doubles set. Each team is then ranked one to five, depending on the number of games won by each team. Then on the Sunday, the top team from each group is put into a pool and plays off for the title, while the second, third, fourth and fifth finishers are also put into pools to play off for additional prizes.

DBRC tennis coach Ajit Gidwani explains: “At Sunday’s semi-final and finals stages, each match consists of a men’s doubles, ladies’ doubles and mixed doubles’ set. The winner is then decided by the total number of games won.”

Player standards are high for the cup, which partly reveals why places for this event are so coveted. “There are a few players in the Nations Cup, long-term DB residents, who have played at a high level as juniors back in their home country. And many of the players play in the Hong Kong Tennis Association leagues,” Ajit explains.

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Roberto Santamaria, DBRC head tennis coach, expects this year’s cup to be extremely competitive. “Australia has won the Nations Cup many times, 10 times in a row prior to 2015,” he says. “But last year Team China won and it was a surprise.”

This year, Roberto says, Team China players have to prove themselves not just against Australia but also other top teams, such as Germany, who always come close to winning the cup and have many new players from which to draw from.

“Being a well-rounded player is important, especially in doubles, as players need to be able to play from the baseline, and effectively at the net to be successful. Good communication with partners is also vital,” advises Ajit.

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Having a ball

Besides giving it their all for national pride on the courts, tournament players and their supporters enjoy a reputably raucous, if not downright wild, after-party.

“Each team dresses up in a theme which represents their nation and parades into the club for everyone to see,” says Ajit. “Prizes are given to the best-dressed team for both the day event and evening event. After the parade, we have the trophy ceremony for the winners of the tournament, followed by a buffet dinner and dancing.”

“The after-party performances are great fun,” Roberto says. “You never know what people are going to come dressed as.” Memorable appearances to date have included a Santa Claus crew driving a golf cart, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and an Elvis impersonating band.

Last year, the prize for best after-party costume went to the combined US teams dressed as the stars of smash-hit, seventies movie Grease; USA Lightening took home the prize for best dressed on court.

“The best part of the tournament has to be the diversity of the people playing in the event. The Nations Cup is a real celebration of the DB community, with people coming out for a good time,” says Ajit.

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Photos by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com

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