Two Alberta senior tennis players–Jennifer Cherneski (over 45 women’s) and Craig Hiddleston (over 50 men’s)–were selected to the Canadian national team this year to compete at the 2018 ITF Seniors World Team Championships. It was Jennifer’s first time on the Canadian team and Craig’s second.
(Photo above: Jennifer Cherneski and tennis friends at the ITF Seniors World Team Championships in Miami. Jennifer is second from the right, back row).
After months of training and preparation, Jennifer traveled in October to Miami, Florida with three other members of the Canadian team. They joined 15 other countries to play in 30+ degree weather on red clay courts–not your typical Alberta conditions.
In August Craig met his three team mates in Ulm, Germany for the Men’s Over 50 world Championship. In the six weeks prior to landing in Germany he joined the worldwide ITF seniors circuit, tweaking his game to the red clay and sharpening his physical and mental fitness. What a life!
I spoke with Jennifer and Craig about their international tennis experience. They both talked about the inspiring level of competition, the fun of the game, and the instant friendships sparked by a common love of tennis.
Both Craig and Jennifer prepared with intent, knowing they would be facing high level players including former ATP and WTA players and unfamiliar conditions. Jennifer played 6-8 hours of tennis and did 3-5 hours of fitness weekly in the six months prior to Miami. It was good that she prepared–her age group played at the hottest part of the day, and some matches went 2.5-3 hours.
Craig took advantage of a summer off (he is transitioning from living in Calgary to Vancouver) to prepare for the worlds like the pros do, with practice tournaments in the U.S. and Europe. He checked the ITF web site then registered for tournaments in Santa Barbara, California July 8-14; Bordeaux, France the next week July 20-22; and then Trieste, Italy for week 3, July 30-August 3. All went according to plan, including tennis camps for his wife and son. His son played for 6 hours/day in Bordeaux, and at a no-English sports camp in Italy. Craig arrived in Germany to captain the Canadian team for the August 12 start, fit as a fiddle, red-clay savvy, and time zone adjusted.
Craig’s highlight actually came before the world competition in his pre-tournaments. Craig convinced his wife (“a solid 4.0 player”) to enter the mixed doubles event in Trieste, Italy, a Grade 3 ITF tournament. They made it to the final. To their delight (and surprise), they came out the winner in a tiebreaker “in a match they shouldn’t have won.” This was a fun and memorable moment for Craig and his family.
And for the cherry on the Italian cake, Craig also won the singles event taking out three top Italian players in long tough matches (2.5-3 hours, 3 sets). So after this experience in Italy, Craig arrived in Germany on a high, and well-practiced.
“With all of the travel I realized how difficult it is for the pros, especially the ones who are trying to work their way up. They have to be tough. Even finding people to practice with when you are on the road is difficult. Jet lag and fatigue are huge factors with travel and back-to-back tournaments.” (Craig Hiddleston)
The Canadian men’s over 50 team played well in Germany against excellent teams. Craig was particularly thrilled that he had a chance to play against the top player in the world in his age category, from Italy. He lost, but played his best and “had so much fun”with this challenge.
(Photo above: Craig Hiddleston and his wife Melissa. They won the mixed doubles in Trieste, Italy, a warm-up event for the world championship in German).
Jennifer was keen to discover what international play and world championships were all about. Her highlights were meeting players from around the world, and watching and playing high quality tennis.
One day Jennifer took the place of Canada’s number one player who was injured (Jennifer was the #2 player on the Canadian team). She played the #1 player from France (Caroline Dhenin, a former pro) which is the team that won the tournament. Although Jennifer won just a single game in the match, she enjoyed it, and felt she had competed well. Later Jennifer discovered that this top French player had played Monica Seles in 1996 as a WTA player.
Craig and Jennifer both talk about how much fun they have playing tennis. They play because they enjoy it and because of the friendships that are made.
Jennifer started playing tennis at age 11 and to this day her tennis friends, both new and old, are her best friends. She returned to tennis in her early 30s to train with a friend and an “excellent coach at the Royal Glenora Club, Lan (Yao-Gallop)”. She was inspired by other Royal Glenora members who had played internationally, like Mary Manley, Gillian Shea and Sue Gilbertson. With her doctoral dissertation well in hand in 2017, she decided to take on a new challenge, signed up for the Canadian nationals, and was invited to the national team.
“At the worlds I met enthusiastic players and fantastic people who are passionate about tennis. There is an instant bond with someone else who is your age and loves to play tennis. It is just a joy to be able to play tennis. As you get older, you recognize what a privilege it is.” (Jennifer Cherneski)
(Photo above: Looks like Jennifer found the joy of tennis…hiding in her water bottle?)
Craig had a very successful competitive junior and college tennis career in the U.S. When he turned 50, with more spare time on his hands, he decided to get back into competitive tennis. Based on his results at nationals (2nd), he made the national team and went to Miami in 2017.
“I had been playing other sports (padel and squash), but decided to get back into singles tennis. So I started training to develop the physical and mental toughness that tennis requires. I play because it is fun. It is fun to win, but I mainly like to play well and to challenge myself. Learning to play on red clay was a fun challenge, so different from the Canadian hard court game and weather.” (Craig Hiddleston)
Jennifer is taking a break from tennis which she believes is important. In the new year her training will focus on developing more variety in her shots, complementing her baseline game.
“This is the good and the bad thing about tennis–there is always something to improve on.” (Jennifer Cherneski)
Craig hopes to make the Canadian team again so he can experience Portugal next year and perhaps some practice tournaments in and around that country.
Craig and Jennifer both emphasized the importance of having fun and finding the joy in the game. Managing the physical demands of tennis is important as you age. In tournaments, playing back-to-back matches and consecutive days can take its toll. Other comments:
See previous article on “Alberta Over 35s Rock the National Stage in Montreal”.
For information on seniors tennis tournaments in Canada, see the schedule for 2019.
Thank you for showing us and reminding us, Craig and Jennifer, of the power of tennis to bring fun and joy as a sport for life, whether it be one of your long time friends on the other side of the court in Alberta, or a person from another country on a red clay court in a foreign country.
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About the ITF Seniors Circuit
The Calendar for the ITF Seniors Circuit provides more detail on individual tournaments, including contact details regarding entries.
The ITF organizes the World Championships, and also oversees the ITF Seniors Circuit that offers 380 tournaments hosted by 72 different countries every year for players between the ages of 35 and 85.
The ITF Young Seniors, Seniors and Super-Seniors World Team Championships are the most prestigous team events on the ITF Seniors Circuit.
(Full disclosure, Craig has lived in Alberta for the past nine years, but he is in the process of moving back to Vancouver).