Editors’ Note: This is a two-part series about a unique tennis reunion taking place in Southern California Feb. 1 in Ladera Ranch.
If you were born between the years 1979 to 1981 (give or a take a year) and played junior tennis in Southern California, you’re invited to a unique tennis event that may actually resemble your 20-year high school reunion more than a typical tennis tournament.
The SoCal Showdown Invitational is also playfully being billed as a Men’s 40s Tiebreak Sectionals, and it was an idea hatched when a trio of former Southern Cal junior rivals in the 10s, 12s and 14s, 16s and 18s from birth years right around 1980 began casually meeting up in Orange County and talking about old times.
Former UCLA player and ATP pro Zack Fleishman first met with Anthony Mateljan and Gabe Goldstein when the three realized they had all moved to Orange County for jobs. The three set a date for what they imagined would be a small gathering of old buddies, to hit around and have a few laughs. “We got out the old blue book and started throwing out names,” Fleishman said. “We knew there were a lot of guys who hadn’t picked up a tennis racket in years. We thought it would be a good excuse to get back into shape.”
The SoCal Showdown Invitational will take place Super Bowl Weekend, Saturday, Feb. 1 at 11:30 a.m. and will be held at Covenant Hills Tennis in Ladera Ranch. The day will include a 32-player tiebreaker tournament, a pizza and salad lunch with drinks and a lot of catching up to do between players who were once rivals on the courts, but always friends off it.
Born in 1981, Mike Marquez was one of the players sought out by Zack, Gabe and Anthony. Currently the tennis director at the Avila Bay Club on the Central Coast, Marquez loved the idea of looking for former SoCal junior players and hopped onto Facebook and started typing in names.
He started a group chat that currently has more than 80 players on it. “People were on there trash talking and one guy even apologized for hooking a player in the 12s,” said Marquez, who played his college tennis at Cal Poly-SLO.
Fleishman said once Marquez got a hold of the idea, it took on a life of its own. “I’ve gotten hundreds of emails, maybe a thousand,” Fleishman said. “We’ve talked about how easy it is to reach people these days. We all remember getting a postcard in the mail with our start time and venue on it. No one knew how the rankings worked. We just waited for the Blue Book to come out every year.”
Just some of the confirmed players attending so far are Fleishman, Mateljan, Goldstein, Marquez, Andrew Park, Jose Lieberman, Ashley Fickel, LeGeorge Mauldin, Scott Carlton, BK Chang, Brian Kent, Tom Lloyd, Dillon Ruby, Ryan Redondo, Derek Miller and Marcin Kosakowski, Brandon Fallon, Brandon Shainfeld, Mark Windes, Quinn Borchard, Alex Yaftali, Adam Webster, Zoran Korac, Mike Placek, Ryan Redondo, Golan Sassoon and Erin Carroll.
“Some of the guys haven’t picked up a racket in five years,” said Fleishman, who had four shoulder surgeries but can still hit around. “This is an excuse to get back in shape.”
He continued: “A lot of these guys on Facebook want to have another crack as some of the top guys. They are excited to get out there. It will be competitive but casual at the same time. We’re just going to eat pizza and have some fun.”
Goldstein also said he’s had shoulder surgery and hasn’t been playing much. “I just kind of figured most people didn’t play much anymore,” he said. “I thought it would just be a way to casually hit and meet up for dinner and some drinks. Zack and Mike started talking and it really gained some traction because it turns out a lot of guys still play or coach.
“It really took off because we all share a bond with each other over the unique experience of competitive junior tennis. For five months a year we would essentially spend every weekend with each other and competing. We all can relate to competing in an individual sport and the at times pressure put on by parents. I’m really looking forward to seeing people I haven’t seen in years. it will be great to reminisce about those times, share stories and catch up with what they are doing.”
Mateljan also hasn’t picked up a racket in years but is looking forward to the event.
“What was originally planned as a few guys hitting a few balls has now turned into a legitimate tournament,” he said. “I haven’t seen or spoken to most of the guys since juniors so the real fun will be catching up with everyone, exchanging old stories and creating new memories. Hopefully this will turn into an annual event.
Marquez is intrigued and wants to locate a few from his era he hasn’t been able to contact. He said former SCTA junior star Phil King reached out but lives in New York now, as did former ATP player Taylor Dent, who now lives in Austin, Texas. He said he would love to invite former SoCal junior stars Ryan Moore, who was a former No. 1 at USC, and Joost Hol, who they have been unable to locate.
If you know of their whereabouts or played junior tennis in SoCal and you were born from 1979-81, email Fleishman at email@example.com if you’d like to play.
Part II: Next week we explore why Mike Marquez thinks the idea of two-year tiebreaker reunions for former junior players can re-ignite interest among adult players who have lost interest in the game.