November 5th, 2015

Tennis Blog: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Nationals

Courtside Adult Leagues
THE THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM: The team's third trip to Sectionals was successful, resulting in a fifth place showing at Nationals.

THE THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM: The team’s third trip to Sectionals was successful, resulting in a fifth place showing at Nationals.

It was 10 minutes before match time at the USTA Florida Adult 18 & Over 4.5 League Sectionals in Daytona Beach. The men on the North Dade 4.5 Adult 18+ team had lost in the third-set tiebreak at sectionals last year, and the year before, suffered a defeat in the semis. But this year it was going to be different.

It was the finals, and co-captains Mike Kelly and Will Lopez needed Will’s brother, Ulisses, to play — but he was off buying beer for after-match refreshments. So they called and told him to hurry back — and definitely lay off the beer.

THE BEAST: Gomie, the team's mascot, with some very attractive dogsitters.

THE BEAST: Gomi The Frenchie, the team’s mascot, with some very attractive dog sitters.

If this sounds wacky, well, it is, especially when you consider that the team mascot, Gomi The Frenchie service dog of team member Micah Porat, traveled to sectionals and was “dogsat” during matches by attractive waitresses at the Hooters-like Winghouse. Gomi has 35,000 followers on Instagram, more than Will, a part-time comedian who often hosts at the Hard Rock Improv club in Hollywood.

Will, “because I’m completely out of my mind,” booked a Daytona gig, and played to a comedy audience a few hours after playing his match. On stage at Bonkerz, his right leg was cramping from tennis, and suddenly the cell phone in his left pocket went wild from about 75 team group texts. The reason? A teammate who was MIA after his defeat missed the team dinner, and had texted “AT8K8” — which teammates were trying desperately to decode.

Turns out it was a butt text. Welcome to the world of the North Miami Beach Tennis Center 4.5 men’s team.

Hard-Court Desert Bound
The team faced big challenges — 15 sectional winners in the Palm Springs desert, where temps soar to 100 degrees of dry heat, and court play is hard. That’s hard as in surface and competition.

“Some teams had teenagers playing Division I college tennis, every team in its bracket had pre-college ringers, while our average age is dead,” said Will, a former Cuban punk musician/MTV reality show star. “These kids slug down energy drinks; we knock down Jager bombs at 4 p.m.” Will’s squad trained by competing in the summer’s Best of Miami flex tourney, and played each other in three-to-four weekly practice sessions.

Most of the dozen players are in their 40s and 50s, with a couple of former Division II college players, said Will, 48, and a 20-year-old, whose 52-year-old dad recruited him for the team. There are also four teaching pros, including Caesar Stewart, who’s coaching his daughter Katerina, now ranked No. 174 on the WTA tour.

The four pros made it to nationals because of a September fundraiser at the Hard Rock Improv club, with comics Dom Irrera, Dave Siegel, and Will performing. Teammate Gary Fong donated frequent flier miles for a round-trip flight for a pro. Half the team has been together for its seven years.

Will Lopez

THE COMIC CAPTAIN: The two sides of Will Lopez–Tennis racket in one hand, and a microphone for standup in the other.

Will’s comedy hero is Louis C.K.; his tennis idol, Roger Federer because “he plays like we do.” “Oh really,” I asked — so would Will let the 17-time Grand Slam winner play on his 4.5 team.?

“Yeah, but he’d have to grow a mustache and hide his identity,” retorted Will. “Heck, I’d welcome Federer’s wife.”

As for nationals, held on Oct. 9-11 at Monterrey Country Club and Rancho Las Palmas, Will’s team finished second in its flight, and fifth overall nationally. The seven-time tennis captain was also just named Captain of the Month by the USTA Florida.

As if all that wasn’t enough, he also competed nationally — this time, in stand-up — at the World Series of Comedy, where some 450 comics tried out, 101 were taken, and he wound up in the top 30. The competition took place in Las Vegas, from where the comic had just flown back — and boy were his arms tired.