By NANCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001
Will Roeper of Belleair is the state's best singles player in the men's 60-and-over division.
The road to No. 1 has been a challenging one, but there's nothing Roeper would change. "I started tennis later in my life, about 30 years ago," Roeper said. "I played baseball growing up and in college, and it wasn't until I was married did I take up tennis."
Roeper, who was born in New Jersey and stayed there until he was 7, lived his preteen years in St. Petersburg before relocating to Maryland to finish high school and attend the University of Maryland.
"I was a catcher for Maryland and played some semi-pro ball after college," Roeper said. "Then, I saw that baseball took up too much time and I was looking for something my wife, Gail, and I could do together."
Since that time, Roeper has thrived on the practicing and competing that comes with the sport.
"Looking back, I think I went into tennis backwards," Roeper said. "For the first 15 or 20 years, I was an athlete playing tennis instead of a tennis player out on the court.
"That changed about 10 years ago when Bill Lufler introduced me to lessons," Roeper said. "Pro impressed on me some of the things I needed to learn in order to get to the next level."
Roeper had been consistently reaching the state's top 10 in his age division. But he seemed unable to advance higher until he took heed to Lufler's advice and began working on his grips and developed a two-handed backhand, slice technique and a drop shot.
"Will really works hard, and being in great shape is definitely in his favor," said Cricket Manuel, tennis professional at the Bellevue Biltmore Resort. "We've worked together about a year and a half, and he's developed a great drop shot, a good backhand slice and now plays a serve and volley game.
"Best of all, I see Will still improving. For me, it's really nice to work with someone who wants to improve and will really work at it."
In addition to sessions with Manuel, Roeper works out daily with Richard Macy, a former player at the University of Miami under the coaching of Lufler during the early 1950s.
"I'm fortunate that my job as a real estate broker allows me to blend my work with tennis so I can practice or play when I want to," Roeper said.
"I love to play so much, I would play every weekend if I could. Tennis is a great outlet for me to keep healthy and allows me to vent my competitiveness."
Roeper limits his practice and playing primarily to Monday-Friday to leave his weekends free for his wife and their 8-year-old son, Scott.
Even with a limited tournament schedule, Roeper earned a national ranking of 19th in the 60s last year. This season, the USTA Clay Court Nationals in Atlanta are on Roeper's schedule.
"Mostly, I play state tournaments that are here in the area and don't enter ones that require a whole weekend away," he said. "I've met some fabulous people at the tournaments, but time with my family always comes first."
In this month's Spring Fling state-sanctioned tournament at Royal Racquet Club, top-seeded Roeper defeated Tom Borst of Largo in straight sets in the 60s final.
"Up until this past year, I was always a base-liner," said Roeper, "but now I've developed a serve and volley game. I decided I wanted to play more aggressively, and I've worked a lot on my volleys."
SPRING FLING: Joining Roeper in the winners' circle at Royal Racquet Club's Spring Fling was Stephen Phillips of Seminole.
Phillips defeated Innisbrook tennis director Scott Coleman in straight sets in the men's division for 30-year-olds.
Along with Borst as a finalist in the men's 60s was St. Petersburg's Mike Reilly, who finished second in the 50s class. Sergei Novikov of St. Petersburg won the 50s consolation title.
CHRISTENSEN ON A ROLL: Bill Christensen of Clearwater won his third consecutive singles title in the men's 55-and-over division with a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Treasure Island's Tom Grayson in last month's Super Seniors at Treasure Island Tennis and Yacht Club.
Christensen is competing in his first year in the division and has entered only three tournaments.
MIXED DOUBLES: Bardmoor's 7.5 adult team has won its division in the USTA Florida Section Mixed Doubles League and will return to the state tournament in April.
Playing for Bardmoor are Mickie and John Gelestor, Angela and Tom Lincicome, Laura Rustin, Mary Jane Evertz, Rhonda Thompson, John Beda, Mike Carrigan and Tony Henrion.
In the 7.5 senior mixed doubles local competition, Bardmoor faces the Racquet Club of St. Petersburg in a playoff match Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Racquet Club, with a 7-5 edge on head-to-head individual matches, is the host team. Sunday's winner advances to the state championships next month.
LINCOLN-WILSON FEST: Countryside Country Club has been selected as one of 25 sites nationwide -- the only one in the Tampa Bay area -- to play host to a Lincoln-Wilson Fest. The event is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. April 1. Adults should call Countryside (796-1136) to reserve a spot in the activities.
Countryside will be having an Open House on April 1 that includes an advanced junior clinic from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., followed by a pee wee activity at 2:30. NEW FORMAT: An experimental women's format in the Suncoast Singles Tennis League begins next month.
Replacing the usual six players per team will be four players in Team A from the 4.0-5.0 NTRP levels and four players in Team B from 2.5-3.5. A club may have a Team A or B or both, or several of each.
The pilot league is being introduced to determine if more clubs will participate. For more details, contact Trish Mainard, 784-8439.
COMING UP: Largo's Highland Recreation Center will play host to a clinic for juniors 16 years old and younger Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. It will be led by teaching professionals Bill Conway, Phil Girardi, Jeff Davis and Vince Chiarelli at a $15 cost for Largo residents and $21.75 for non-residents. Proceeds will assist in the purchase of a bus for Largo's Outreach Program. For more information, call 518-3089.