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East County Wednesday, Jul. 1, 2009 8 years ago

University Park partners a perfect match

by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

UNIVERSITY PARK — University Park Country Club resident Arnie Vance looked to make a lasting impression on his temporary tennis partner when the two stepped out onto the clay court to play together for the first time.

Only the impression he left wasn’t quite the one Vance had in mind. Halfway through their first men’s 60s clay court doubles division tournament, Vance and fellow UPCC resident Bill Plummer were up 9-3 when Vance’s confidence waned. After two missed opportunities, the duo saw its lead disappearing.

“All of a sudden, I choked,” Vance said. “I hit two really bad shots, and that’s when I turned to Bill and said, ‘You’re going to have to finish this for us.’ I knew I was in trouble, and that’s what you need to be able to communicate to your partner.”

Vance and Plummer went on to win the tournament and haven’t looked back since. Throughout the past three years, the team has become one of the most dominant in the area. Last year, the duo was ranked No. 1 in Florida and No. 11 nationally in the men’s 60s clay court doubles division.

“We just actually play really well as a team,” Plummer said. “In doubles, it’s about knowing what the other guy is going to do. It’s a matter of trusting what your partner can do.”

Plummer and Vance formed an unlikely partnership in 2006 when Vance’s former partner injured his knee. Vance approached Plummer, the more advanced of the two, about temporarily filling in for a few tournaments. Plummer agreed, and two teamed up and won the UPCC Doubles Club Championship in 2006.

Plummer began playing tennis in the early 1980s at the urging of his wife, and after moving to Atlanta in 1985, Plummer began focusing more on tennis and improving his game. Since then, the 64-year-old has become one of the top players in his age group after attaining a 4.5 United States Tennis Association ranking.

Vance began playing tennis in Connecticut and competed in several USTA tournaments and USTA and Interclub leagues. After moving to Florida, the 62-year-old Vance found himself involved in more high-profile tournaments. After attaining a 4.0 USTA ranking, Vance began competing in singles tournaments against guys half his age. After getting beat on several occasions, Vance discovered age-based tennis.

“That’s one of the things that you find is that it’s tough to give up five years,” Vance said. “We love age-based tennis. It’s wonderful, and the biggest thing is the people are really nice. It loses its seriousness even though you want to win.”

After winning back-to-back UPCC Doubles Club Championships in 2006 and 2007, Plummer and Vance decided to continue their partnership and see how far they could advance.

In 2008, the pair completed a full clay court tournament schedule, which included wins at the Courtside Annual Fall Classic and the Clearwater Adult Spring Classic and runner-up finishes at the Pioneer Days Classic and Longboat Key Senior Clay Courts Tournament. The national team rankings are based on the team’s top five events of the year, which must include a national championship and at least one other Category 2 tournament. 

“The reason we got better is that Arnie exposed his weakness to himself, and that has made him a better tennis player,” Plummer said.

Plummer and Vance practice both individually and as a team between four and six times a week. The pair tries to play in at least one or two matches a week and also practices with UPCC tennis pro Jared Gross.

Additionally, the team plays in the UPCC 50s League and last year began playing in the Sarasota 60s League. The pair has since lost its No. 1 ranking, having moved down to No. 5 in the state, but there are still many opportunities for the team to advance, including the clay court national championships in September.

“I never thought I would be a ranked tennis player, and I attribute it all to Billy,” Vance said. “I just think we enjoy playing, and you can’t have great wins without the losses.”

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].

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