By Charlie Garfinkel
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
To make the International Tennis Federation’s U.S. Senior World Championships Tennis Team, which is the senior equivalent of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup competitions, would be considered a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
To make the team for a second straight year would be highly improbable due to the many new and outstanding players coming into the different divisions each year.
And yet, Elma’s Ken White has achieved that.
He is currently ranked third and first respectively in the United States in the 50-over singles and doubles divisions.
“I was very pleased and excited when I was recently notified that I would be one of 40 players who would be representing the United States in different age divisions in Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Fla., from April 21 to 26 for the team competition and from April 27 to May 4 for the individual competition,” he said.
White will be playing third singles and first or second doubles in the 50-over competition. There are five divisions in both the men’s and women’s teams with four players on each team.
Among the 40 players who are representing the United States in different divisions are Michael Chang, the former French Open singles champion who is playing in the 40-over division, and Jeff Tarango (45-over), who was once ranked in the top 25 in the world on the pro tour.
More than 1,000 players from 39 countries will be represented in both the men’s and women’s divisions in the team and individual competition.
Andrew Stoner is the second-ranked 50-over player in the country and plays out of Scottsdale, Ariz. He has competed against White in many competitions and knows White’s game well.
“When I first met Ken in the senior competitions about seven years ago, I was really impressed at how powerful his overall game was,” Stoner said. “However, he wasn’t really consistent and needed some improvement in different areas. Incredibly, he seems to get better as he gets older. His serve is arguably the hardest on the tour and is hit between 125-128 miles an hour.
“I was on the pro tour and I got to hit with such outstanding women as Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Chandra Rubin. Their serves topped out at 110 miles an hour, not even close to Ken’s serve. Ken’s forehand is a monster and is also hit with great power. If his serve is on, he can literally serve you off the court.
“What is really scary is that Ken knows when to use these weapons at crucial times. His backhand is also much improved, and he plays unbelievably under pressure. He is as fierce a competitor as any other player in our division.”
White played first singles at Tonawanda High School. Although he was a good player, he wasn’t ranked in the upper echelon of the top high school players. When he went to UB, he met highly regarded tennis coach Bill Monkarsh.
“Monk” transformed White’s game from being a pretty good player to becoming the only All-American in UB history. Monkarsh was a great motivator and worked with White as hard as any player he had ever encountered.
However, Monkarsh wasn’t totally responsible for White’s competitiveness. White was one of five brothers; all good athletes.
“My brothers and I would do anything to beat each other, regardless of the sport,” he said. “We would compete to see who could throw the baseball the farthest and who would hit the most home runs. In basketball and football we were also always tough on each other.”
White has had plenty of great wins, but his victory over Scott Davis in the 50-over division was the highlight of his career. At the time, Davis was the nation’s top ranked 50-over player and was formerly ranked No. 11 in the world on the pro tour in singles and second in the world in doubles. “When I knew I was going to play Davis, I wasn’t intimidated as most players are,” White said. “I know my game and my ability. I feel that I can compete and win against anyone in my division. And, I know I’m playing smarter and better as I get older.
“I used to go down the line a lot. Now, like most of the pros, I continually hit cross court until I can get a shot to put away. Playing with and against so many great players has also improved my doubles game.”
At 6-2, 210 pounds, White is an imposing figure off and on the court. Five mornings a week he plays and works out at a bubble in East Aurora. After his tennis drills, White will play at least one set with good friends and heavy hitters Darryl Acker or Pete Ryan.
White has won 19 national titles in the 45 and 50 age divisions and is hoping to add a few more. He is also a glutton for punishment. You would think that his training and playing two weeks straight in the world championships would be enough, but not so. Next week, as a tuneup for the world’s championships. White will be playing singles and doubles in the National Senior Clay Courts in Baton Rouge, La.
“I realize that I will be playing a great amount of tennis over the next few weeks,” White said. “I make sure that I eat light and drink plenty of coconut water to keep my electrolytes up, and get lots of sleep. I feel that I am a very lucky guy.”