After 10-year-old Manny Mariani watched Jimmy Connors play tennis on TV, he began hanging out at apartment tennis courts behind his home in Temple Terrace.
About 15 years later Mariani began teaching tennis for his hometown recreation department as an independent contractor.
"My mom put me in all kinds of sports when I was about six years old," Mariani said. "I was pretty small for my age, and every time I got hurt in a sport she would take me out. After I saw Jimmy Connors playing, I decided that was a sport I wanted to try."
Mariani, born in Brooklyn and having grown up in Venezuela, moved with his family to Temple Terrace when he was 6. His home was less than 2 miles from the recreation center's six hard courts.
"I hung around those courts and practiced, then I would get asked to play," said Mariani, who played at King High. "During the summer I began working for Betty Rodgers in the pro shop at the old Davis Island courts to help pay for a club membership there."
After playing at Limestone College and Winthrop University in South Carolina, Mariani was accepted at the late Harry Hopman training facility, then located at Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club in Largo. Mariani worked there until Hopman's death in 1985.
After Temple Terrace opened its $5-million recreation facility with six hydrogrid clay courts, the first director stayed for about a year, then Mariani took over.
"The word is definitely getting out, and the word is good," Mariani, 42, said. "We're gaining the reputation of being one of the best in the Hillsborough area. "Everything is going really well, with tennis activity increasing. The courts are in good shape _ I resurface them myself every six months _ and the word is getting out that the Temple Terrace Tennis Center is worth coming to."
In last weekend's Summer Bash at the facility Mariani directed 89 players in boys and girls singles for five age divisions. Among the boys 18 finalists was Adam Weigle, a Mariani protege since Weigle started playing at 12.
"Adam is actually 16, but we decided to have him play higher so he could begin working on his 18 ranking," Mariani said. "He's only been playing the last three to four years and is doing very well."
In the boys 18 final Weigle lost to No. 1 Aaron Haines of Nokomis 6-2, 6-2.
Wesley Chapel's Paul Polarczyk fared better with a straight-set win in the boys 12. Area players Stefan Rizzo in the boys 10, Robert Wald the 16 and Meghan Sullivan in the girls 12 also won in the finals. Brooke Allen in the 18, Jamie Hamilton in the 10, Kelly Sullivan in the 12, Kaysara Mandry in the 14 and Allison Beck in the 16 also reached their finals.
Consolation winners included area players Jeanette McDonald in the 16, Caitlin McKenna in the 14, Sophia Kim in the 12, Richard Pinelli in the 18, Mark Wilkie in the 16, Michael Canencia in the 14, Danny Heidenberg in the 12 and Cole Enright in the 10.
Mariani's next state-sanctioned tournament, the Adult Summer Bash, is July 26-28, with age-division singles and doubles for men and women in the 30-and-over, 40, 50 and open divisions. Call Mariani at (813) 989-7178 for details.
NET SHOTS: In last month's U.S. Tennis Association's National Open for players 18 and under in Tallahassee, Yumi Hasegawa, after losing to eventual champion No. 1 Alexandria Liles, reached the girls 18 consolation semifinal. Brianna Williams teamed with Liberty Svoke to win the girls doubles, as did Konstantin Lazarov and Alexandru Cojanu in the boys. Lazarov played to the round of 16 in the singles. Twelve youth teams will compete in Saturday's USA Team Tennis NJTL/USA Team Tennis Youth Red Rally at Countryside Country Club. Among the 12 teams of 12-and-younger players are the Hernando Heat, Hernando Hurricanes and the Hernando Red Hawks. Teams that participated in spring or summer USA Team Tennis leagues were eligible.
COMING UP: The Royal Summer Super Series, for players 18-and-under, begins Saturday at Royal Racquet Club. Call (727) 791-8415 today to register. Seminole Lake Tennis Center will have its Spectacular Super Series starting Saturday for players 14 and under. To register call (727) 394-1733 today. The East Lake Junior Rookie is July 19-20 at East Lake Woodlands. Call (727) 785-2212.