Joe Gari was looking for a warm-weather sport in New Jersey when he discovered tennis more than 25 years ago. It has been his sport ever since.
"I used to ski, but when I was 40 years old I found tennis," said Gari. "From the time a friend invited me to play, I liked tennis as much as skiing."
Gari played some club tennis in New Jersey, and when he and wife Phyllis moved to Florida a year ago, River Crossing Country Club became the center of their activities. Gari is currently captain of a 3.5 team in the U.S. Tennis Association Senior Doubles League. The squad is unbeaten among six teams with three matches remaining. Thoughts of a playoff for the district championship and a possible trip to the state tournament are surfacing.
"I'd rather be in this position (undefeated) than in any other," said Gari, "and our position is pretty good. But with three matches left to play, we're thinking about those first."
His team is solid, said Gari, with each player possessing at least 20 years' playing experience.
"The addition of Don Bucci, a strong 3.5 player from Yonkers, N.Y., made us a very solid team," said Gari. "In seven matches and a possible 21 position wins, we have won 20.
"Plus, you like to think that as one's dexterity decreases with age, your wisdom of playing increases."
Winning at least four matches for the team are Bucci, who has won all seven; Gari and Bob McKenzie with six-of-six, and Jerry McDowell and Les Drew going four-for-four.
Bucci and Gari compete in the No. 1 doubles position, followed by McDowell and McKenzie in No. 2. Combinations including Dick Roberts, Jim Graham, Drew, Conrad Berhorster, Ray Holland and Albert Jerome compete in the No. 3 position.
Phyliss Gari played golf before she began tennis and is now on the 3.5 River Crossing team that already has clinched the north division title in the senior league and is in a playoff for a berth in the state competition in May.
Senior women winners: River Crossing's 3.5 team defeated Seminole Lake Racquet Club, the south division winner, 3-0 in Saturday's first playoff match of the Senior Doubles League. The second match in the best 2-of-3 playoff is Saturday at River Crossing.
In other senior women's action, East Lake Woodlands captured the 3.0 division with a 3-0 win over Isla del Sol, and Bardmoor A eliminated Bardmoor B 3-0 in the 4.0 division.
USTA adult league: River Crossing opened its season in the U.S. Tennis Association Adult League with a 3-2 win over Countryside in the women's 3.5 north division. Ann Hammond won the No. 2 singles, Josie Doucette and Jean McKenzie survived three sets in No. 2 doubles, and captain Millie Wehrly and Maureen Sternberg won 7-5, 7-5 in the third position.
Bay Area League: Three teams from River Crossing won last week in the Bay Area Tennis League. River Crossing defeated Van Dyke Farms 4-1 in the A-1 upper division, blanked River Hills 5-0 in the A-1 lower division, and edged Hunter's Green 3-2 in A-2. The A-3 team lost a 3-2 match with Maharaj.
Spring Hill open: More than 120 players competed in 16 divisions of singles and doubles last weekend in the Spring Hill Tennis Open at Delta Woods Park. Nearly $3,000 was raised for the Spouse Abuse Building Fund for the Rape Crisis Center in Hernando County.
The men's open singles winner was Ken McWilliams of Spring Hill, and open doubles champions were Steve Koehler and Dennis Kolean. The boys high school winner was Matt Lai of Spring Hill; Kenzie Zook of Brooksville was the girls high school champion. For complete results, please see For the Record.
Light n' Lively: In conjunction with the Light n' Lively women's doubles tournament, a Ladies Day is planned Friday, March 25, at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for area players. Top-level advice on tennis, nutrition, sports psychology and various other topics will be given by professional player Pam Shriver and tennis coach Julie Anthony.
Lunch, the presentations and quarterfinal match tickets are available for $28. For more information, call 535-4511.
Light n' Lively is the only doubles tournament on the Women's Tennis Association Tour and includes eight of the world's top doubles teams. The tournament is March 24-27.