CLEARWATER, Fla. — The 2018 Florida Senior Games, presented by Humana, Mixed Doubles Tennis 70-74 age group featured an interesting match-up on its opening day Wednesday at Innisbrook Resort and Spa.
Multiple gold medal winners, Judi and Aubrey Whitaker, of Lake Wales, were paired on the courts against Michelle and Julian Rainwater, of Ponte Vedra Beach, who made their first appearance in FSG mixed doubles.
While the Whitaker’s have played tennis together throughout their marriage and have FSG experience dating back to 2010. The Rainwater’s combined have over 100 years of athletic competition experience as Julian was a high school and college athlete and Michelle has spent most of her life on the courts.
“This is going to be the toughest opening round match we’ve ever played,” said Aubrey Whitaker, prior to the match, making note of Julian Rainwater’s men’s singles gold medal a few days earlier.
Whitaker correctly foresaw the future as he and Judi, won a tough, one hour and 40-minute, two set match 6-3, 7-6, with the final game being won, 10-8 in a USTA Coman set tie break.
After the Whitaker’s won the first set, the Rainwater’s held a 4-3 lead, halfway through the second set. The Whitaker’s took the next two games and rallied from a 40-15 deficit to tie the set at 5-5. Things went back and forth to a 6-6 tie.
In the final tie breaking game to seven while winning by two points, the Whitaker’s took a 5-1 lead before the Rainwater’s scored the next five points to take a 6-5 lead.
Again, points went back and forth until an 8-8 tie and as Michelle Rainwater passed an exhausted Aubrey Whitaker during a side switch, she smiled and said, “C’mon, this is fun.”
The Whitaker’s scored the tie breaker’s last two points with the final point coming on a shot deep in the corner from Aubrey, that Julian was unable to return over the net.
The competitive nature of all four players was on display as each team scored points on well-placed and well-timed sharp shots past each other and finding open spots on the court to drop a shot. After many of those scoring shots, there was mutual respect and sportsmanship on display as compliments were passed back and forth over the net.
Julian was a high school and collegiate track and field athlete who attended Wake Forest University as a member of the track and field and football teams. He is registered to compete in track and field events at Clearwater High School and will make a game-time decision whether or not he will return for the Long Jump and Pole Vault on Saturday and the 50- and 100-meter dashes on Sunday.
It was his track and field experience that got him started playing tennis at the age of 40. “I could get the ball really quick,” he said. “Then I need to learn how to be a tennis player.”
His wife, Michelle, has been playing tennis since the age of 14 and has played recreationally all of her life. “When I’m on the courts, I’m not a wife, a mother, or a female,” she said. I’m a player.”
Aubrey Whitaker was a basketball coach at Lake Wales High School and Lake Highland Prep, in Orlando, but on the courts, it’s Judi who calls the shots for the team that competes in Husband/Wife Combo Tournaments around the country.
With their win, the Whitaker’s advance to the gold medal match on Thursday, while the Rainwater’s play in a bronze medal match.
On the final day of 36-hole golf, the Men’s 60-64 age group was determined by a USGA Tie-Breaking procedure while the Men’s 70-74 and Women’s 65-69 age group medal winners were one stroke apart.
Martin Black, of Clearwater, held a two-stroke lead over Broward Sapp after Tuesday’s round with a score of 80 over Sapp’s 82. On Wednesday, Sapp carded an 85 to Black’s 87. The USGA tiebreaker, in a 36-hole play, awards the lowest score over the last 18 holes, thereby giving Sapp the gold medal, with a two-day score of 167.
In the 70-74 age group, Ed Hoover, of Tallahassee held on to his one stroke lead from Tuesday, as both he and Nick Kent, of The Villages, shot a 79 on Wednesday. Hoover won the gold medal with a two-day score of 153, while Kent shot a 154 and Tom Buck, of Indian Rocks Beach, took the bronze with a 155.
Hoover and Robert Colledge, of Kamloops, British Columbia, also matched Hoover’s top two-day score of 153 shooting76 on Tuesday and 77 on Wednesday to win the 65-69 age group gold medal.
Debra Whipkey, of Pensacola, held on to top Diane Zaring, of Ponte Vedra Beach, by one stroke to win the Women’s 65-69 gold medal. Her four-stroke lead heading into Wednesday’s play was just enough as Zaring shot a second day score of 89 to Whipkey’s 92..
2018 Florida Senior Games action continues with Day Six featuring the 5K and 10K Time Trials, at Fort Desoto Park and the opening day of four days of Pickleball with Men’s and Women’s Singles being played at the North Greenwood and Ross Norton Recreation Centers in Clearwater. Six days of Tennis comes to a conclusion with Mixed Doubles championship matches at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club.
Also being held is the Celebration of Athletes at The Long Center in Clearwater, from 4:00-6:00 p.m. The festivities are a celebration of active aging and a chance for Florida Senior Games athletes to mix and mingle for a night of food, live music, and entertainment! A group of athletes will be recognized and awarded who embody what it means to age actively – physically, mentally and socially.
Over 2,600 athletes are competing in the 2018 Florida Senior Games, presented by Humana, in Clearwater and Pinellas County through December 9. The 2018 Games are a qualifier for the 2019 National Senior Games, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, June 14-25.
The 2018 Florida Senior Games, presented by Humana, are an annual presentation of the Florida Sports Foundation, the state’s leading sports promotion and development organization and are held in conjunction with Visit St. Pete Clearwater and the City of Clearwater.