Gympie veteran tennis player Kym Ireland (right) celebrates a bronze medal win with Sunshine Coast’s Janelle Spittle in doubles at the World Seniors’ Tournament in Mexico earlier this month. It was Ireland’s first time competing in the event and she was elated to be able to match it with the world’s best veteran players.
Gympie veteran tennis player Kym Ireland (right) celebrates a bronze medal win with Sunshine Coast’s Janelle Spittle in doubles at the World Seniors’ Tournament in Mexico earlier this month. It was Ireland’s first time competing in the event and she was elated to be able to match it with the world’s best veteran players. Contributed

Ireland wins bronze at world event

“THE trip of a lifetime” is how Gympie veteran tennis player Kym Ireland is summing up her recent trip to Mexico to compete in the 2010 World Seniors’ Tournament.

Ireland travelled away with an Australian contingent to compete in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) event earlier this month and touched down in Australia Wednesday last week.

The Gympie tennis player was captain of the Australian Over 40s team and was joined by fellow Queensland players Janelle Spittle and Melinda Obah.

The tournament was global with teams from across the world converging on Mexico to participate.

A team’s event, similar to Davis Cup format, was played together with singles.

Ireland wasn’t successful in the team’s event during the first week, finishing ninth out of a field of 10 teams.

“We had some very close games against Mexico and Sweden that didn’t go our way, so we could have finished fifth or sixth,” she said.

Ireland served for the match in a doubles match to decide the winner of the rubber against Sweden but was unable to close it out despite having match point.

“I was pretty down that night because we were so close to winning that match,” she said.

“But one of the other players’ wives came up to me and we spoke about it and it helped to put it into perspective.”

The second week Ireland contested singles and although knocked out of the main draw, managed to win the consolation singles.

The consolation singles were contested by players who had lost in the main draw.

Ireland defeated Germany’s Ellen Newmann 6-1, 6-2 in the final.

“I was really pleased with that match,” Ireland said.

Newmann went into the match after a gruelling battle the afternoon earlier and Ireland exploited her opponent’s sluggish form.

“She was making a lot of mistakes which made life much easier for me,” she said.

“The first set I mostly just played conservatively and let her make the mistakes. I didn’t have to go for much.”

In the second set, the Gympie athlete started to find her rhythm and stepped it up, finding the courage to go for her shots.

“I hit more winners in the second set and went for a lot more,” she said.

“We had some really great rallies from the baseline, but thankfully I was able to control most of the points.”

One of the biggest hurdles for the Gympie veteran to overcome was the higher altitude in Mexico.

The Australian players arrived a week earlier to practice and adjust to the conditions but found the conversion difficult.

The altitude difference drastically altered the flight of the ball, frustrating Ireland.

“Ideally we needed more than a week to practice to acclimatise.”

Hitting a perfect lob was exceptionally difficult and became a running joke for members on Ireland’s team.

“If we managed on that rare occasion hit a successful lob, we had a laugh about it,” she said. “It was just a hard thing to do because you would tap the ball and it would just soar over the baseline.”

The highlight for Ireland from the ITF event was clinching a bronze medal in the over 40’s doubles with team-mate Spittle.

The pair had a chance to play for the gold medal, but was left with bronze after going down in a close battle with an American team 6-4, 7-6.

Ireland and Spittle had a 4-0 lead in the second set to force the match into a deciding set but the American duo showed their class.

“It wasn’t a case of us letting it slip or dropping our game at all,” Ireland said.

“It was just the class of the Americans. They raised their game and played so well to win.”

Ireland said she never once thought she would be returning home with a medal when she first boarded her flight bound for Mexico.

“I was completely surprised but happy to win a medal,” she said.

“The biggest thing to come from it all is knowing we all could compete at the standard and more than hold our own.”

Although losing to the American team, Ireland established a close friendship with one of their players.

“Vesna was great to meet,” Ireland said. “She could speak four languages, including Spanish, which was really helpful.”

The friendship with Vesna withstood a small incident in the play-off to advance to the gold medal match.

Ireland put a ball away at the net and the American was unfortunate to find her head on the receiving end.

“She was a great sport about it,” Ireland said. “These things happen in tennis but she just laughed it off.”

With her bronze medal packed away with her luggage, Ireland enjoyed a bit of sightseeing during her return trip to Australia, including stopovers in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

She stayed in Las Vegas, not finding the time to gamble, before undertaking a nine hour drive to LA.

“The trip normally takes four to five hours but it took nine because of the traffic,” Ireland said.

To pass the time, Ireland and her travelling companions played a game of “I Spy”.

Stuck in the middle of the desert on a seemingly endless highway, the game was a challenge.

“We found things to play the game, but it was quite a funny moment because it was the longest drive,” Ireland said.

Vegas’ clothing factory outlets also proved irresistible to the Gympie tennis player who now says she won’t be buying sports gear for at least the next decade.

“We had seven bags when I arrived and 14 when we got back to Australia,” Ireland said.

Back to reality, Ireland says the trip has been one of the biggest things she has done in her life.

“You only live once so do something like this has been really special,” she said.

“The entire tournament was extremely well run and it’s an experience I would like to have again.”

The next World Seniors’ Tournament will be held in Christchurch, New Zealand, next year.

The biggest thing to come from it all is knowing we all could compete at the standard and more than hold our own.

Gympie Times


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