Area tennis tournaments, which got into full swing this month, give entrants a chance to have fun and to meet new partners. Also, these one-one duels in pressure situations provide an opportunity to compete against superior players one might otherwise never face.
An excellent way to improve one's level of play is to take on the more experienced tournament veterans, discovering which parts of the game are erratic and which strokes hold up under fire.
A good player immediately spots flaws in his opponent's arsenal - an inconsistent backhand or a weak serve - and will attack that stroke relentlessly.
One veteran of the area tennis circuit, 33-year-old Gene Russo, has been the top-ranked male in the Middle Atlantic Lawn Tennis Association (the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and most of West Virginia) four of the last five years.
The hard-serving southpaw, an instructor at the Northern Virginia Racquet Club in Vienna, plays in tournaments "to meet guys from different areas and because I like to compete. For me it's a vacation from teaching six hours a day, five days a week, which can get you into a rut."
He advises youngsters who took up the sport when they were 8 or 9 years old, "to first enter tournaments at the age of 10 or 11, as long as they can return the ball fairly consistently. Kids must also understand that they will get beat badly initially and that they are there for experience. Juniors must learn to play with correct strokes under pressure and discover how to counteract that pressure."
Russo, whose wife Margaret was rated the top female player in the region last year, attributes his long stretch on top of the MALTA perch to his being brought up playing on grass, a lightning-fast surface "where you basically serve and volley and hit hard returns of serve. Very few players in the area have that type of game."
There is a growing crop of talented 16- and 17-year-olds as well as several recent college graduates returning to the area who may end Russo's reign as MALTA champ.
Steve Tidball, who played for UCLA and is ranked second to Russo in MALTA, and ElMotaz Sonbol (ranked seventh), a member of the Egyptian Davis Cup team of 15 years, are two of a half dozen players capable of knocking off Russo.
According to Uni MacDonald, executive secretary of MALTA, the best way to enter a tournament is to "contact, by either mail or telephone, the tournament director and request an entry form. Ask for the form about one mouth in advance, since deadlines for entries may precede the start of the tournament by as much as three weeks."
The following list details the dates and locations of all tournaments for the remainder of 1979 sanctioned by MALTA and by the United States Tennis Association.For more details on draw limitations, entry deadlines and on where to contact tournament directors, write MALTA at 5656 Ravenel Lane, Springfield, Va. 22151.
Local recreation departements also should be contacted for events in your area.