Here’s the first-ever GMB’s player rankings, based on club, USTA and Ultimate Tennis results and the opinions of a carefully-chosen, deliberately-decisive, systematically-sequestered panel of experts. Or maybe it’s just one dude’s opinion. You’ll never know. Though you probably do. These aren’t meant for any purpose other than having a little fun and allowing a 25-year, award-winning (13 but who’s counting?) sportswriting veteran feel alive. We feel they are accurate, however, and stand by their veracity. However, if you think this is getting too personal and too raw, let me know, we will gladly remove your name. But I know y’all got thicker skin than that, right?
1. Erik Hajek
Yes, Hajek lost in the singles semifinals at the club championships, blowing it after winning the first set 6-0, and should be punished for such dreadfulness. But let’s face it, no one likes playing him as his hard-hitting ferocious style and deceptive speed for a player nicknamed Big Bear makes for a long afternoon.
However, and I did not know this until actually looking it up, but did you know Hajek has never lost a USTA match? Last fall, he was 5-0 in the 6.5 combo league, and went 2-0 at sectionals. And on the 3.5 over 18 team this past season, he was 4-0, showing his versatility by winning doubles matches with J.R. Daws, Patrick Rairigh and Bob Schmidt. He also won his only singles match in straight sets. And that’s not all! Hajek is also 4-0 in mixed 7.0 doubles, giving him a career record of 15-0 in USTA action. Wow. Now that I’ve jinxed him, however, he’ll have to sit out this week’s big match with Brandon. Oops.
Sadly, due to work travel, his strange love of recreational soccer and playing video games, Hajek hasn’t played a complete singles match against any 3.5 player since losing to John Slatniske at the club championships. Of those 15 USTA wins, just one was singles (and against a 3.0 player at that) so he’ll have to start manning up and take on the likes of Slats, Larry Palombo, Shaun Cooley and 3.5 club champ John Cotey if he is to retain his ranking.
2. Shaun Cooley
We joke around about Cooley being some 15-year-old kid (he’s actually 17), but he is arguably the best 3.5 doubles player at the club. He is obviously technically sound from years of training at the finest tennis academies in California, has the best backhand and a gentle touch around the net. Why this young stallion wastes so much time on doubles we will never know. According to this website, which gives more credit for doubles prowess than the USTA does, Cooley is the second-highest rated 3.5 player at Hunter’s Green behind Palombo (3.41 to 3.40). In USTA action, Cooley and Palombo are the only ones who have dipped their toes in 4.0 action. Cooley is 0-3 in 4.0 doubles this year, but in 3.5 doubles was 4-0 on the 18-over sectional qualifier, and is 4-1 in 7.0 mixed action. Overall, his USTA record in 2015 is 8-5.
3. John Slatniske
With Palombo out with injury and Cotey relegated to doubles, it was Slatniske who picked up the singles slack in the 40-over USTA league, going an impressive 4-0 at No. 1 singles and and 5-1 overall.
He also went 2-1 in singles for the 18-over 3.5 team headed to sectionals next month, making him 7-2 on the year and the most experienced 3.5 USTA singles player at the club. In doubles, he has found his comfort zone from the baseline and despite a paralyzing fear of playing at the net that sometimes causes him to mimick a 1960s elementary school nuclear bomb test by hitting the ground and rolling under the nearest desk, he has had great success. He teamed with Cotey for 3.5 and 4.0 Ultimate Tennis doubles championships, and is 10-2 during USTA play. While most of his doubles credit should be given to his primary partner in life and tennis, Lara, it should be noted he is 4-0 without her. Just sayin’.
4. John Cotey
Probably played as well as he ever has and will in defeating the favorite Palombo at the club championships, and then beat Slatniske 7-5, 7-5 in the final. Also added 3.5 mixed and doubles title. At one point in May and June, won 20 straight USTA, Ultimate Tennis and flex league matches (but who’s counting, except for him, really) before being dumped in a third-set tiebreaker by 106-year-old Dario Jaramillo. That set him off on a 5-match losing streak, including three defeats at the hands of Slatniske, including by straight sets in the flex league final. His recent struggles may have ebbed earlier this week when he defeated Slatniske 7-6 (13-11) in one set of action, and he split sets with Palombo Wednesday morning.
While grossly out of shape and nicknamed “Gorilla” by sometimes-doubles partner Nini Torres because he is tall, dark and handsome and enjoys bananas, Cotey has been strong in Ultimate Tennis (two doubles championships) but has had an up-and-down USTA season. He is 13-8 overall
, though he’d like to point out that six of those losses have come via third-set tiebreaker. Well, wait, that might mean he’s a choker. Scratch that.
5. Larry Palombo
Palombo has been slowed by an arm injury, though there have been reports that he has been sighted on the clay courts during the weekend’s morning hours. A completely healthy Palombo can beat anyone on this list, but his inactivity in singles has made it difficult to evaluate. He’s the best damn over-65 tennis player we know of, though, and is, according to this site, the best 3.5 player at the club, and the closest to getting bumped to 4.0 which has been expected for awhile.
Palombo is 1-1 in 4.0 singles this year, winning at No. 2, and is 1-0 in doubles. At the 3.5 level, Palombo was 0-2 in singles nursing a bad wing, but in 65-over combos, he was 5-0 and 2-2 at sectionals. We think No. 5 is just a temporary stop for the wily veteran as he makes his way back near the top.
6. Patrick Rairigh
Rairigh is on a mission to return to singles action, which is pretty courageous for a guy lugging around a pair of 10-pound knee braces. Let’s all start working on our drop shot right now, shall we? But in doubles, Rairigh has been solid and has played a key role on two sectional-qualifying teams this year. He was 5-0 in the 18-over team that heads to Altamonte Springs next month, winning matches (four of them at No. 1) while partnering with Hajek, Cooley and Bob Fuller. In 6.5 combo action, Rairigh was 3-0, and 1-1 at sectionals.
7. Herb Gabora
While working on Calvin Coolidge’s presidential campaign as an intern, Gabora was a little-known 30-year-old with a mean forehand. He has played the game ever since, and remains one of the craftier veterans out there. When teamed up properly in doubles, he remains a winning player. On the 18-over sectional-bound Green Machine, Gabora played with Cotey, Daws and Bob Schmidt and won every time, including dominant 6-2, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-1 victories. He is 3-1 when teamed up with Peter Boutell this year. Little known fact: Gabora is 35-0 lifetime when he says “Would you believe me if I called that out?” during a match.
8 (tie). Bob Schmidt
Schmidt continues to be an effective player on the court, with a nice slice serve and a nice touch around the net, making up for his lack of mobility. But he might be most famous for creating a new phrase in the tennis lexicon: “Schmidtted On.” Schmidt is well known for his incredibly annoying and exasperating underhand slice serve, which is now employed by the younger players who yell “Hahahaha, I just Schmidtted on you!” when it produces an ace. Cooley is the top practititioner of this method — he Schmidtted on Slatniske a few weeks back to win a set, it was a thing of beauty — though it is commonly tried by the other youngsters as well. Schmidt was 2-1 in the 18-over season and is headed to Altamonte Springs, and he and Boutell were 3-0 in the 40-over season and finished the season strong.
8. (tie) Peter Boutell
The baseline savant perfectly complements a number of others at the club, making him a doubles MVP with his willingness to lob your ears off. Boutell is 11-8 in doubles in 2015 in 40-over mixed and 40-over and 55-over men’s action. After a slow start in the 40-over season, Boutell teamed up with Gabora and Schmidt (four times) to go 4-1 in his last five matches.
10. Peter Groer
You know when you see Groer stroll to the back fence to hang that towel up, it’s going to be a long match. Really really long. Groer continues to play singles despite being slowed down by three fake hips (most people only have two, Groer takes it to another level), and never backs down from a challenge. In the 18-over USTA season, Groer was 1-0 in singles, using his guile and maddening array of drop shots to take a stunning three-set victory from a much younger player. Properly used, Groer has the kind of net presence to continue being a weapon.