CNMI Sports Hall of Famer Jeff Race stunned his seeded opponents en route to clinching the singles title in the Hong Kong ITF Seniors National Tournament 2018 held last week at the Victoria Park Tennis Court.
The unranked Race defeated three seeded players in the 26-man field to win the 55-and-over singles division crown of the competition that ran from Oct. 20 to 26. His first victim (ranked player) was No. 2 Vladimir Kokorev with Race shutting down his foe in the first set, 6-0, and picking up where he left off in the second set with a 6-1 triumph to advance to the quarterfinals. Before bowing to Race, Kokorev drew a bye in the first round, while the Commonwealth player eased past Hong Kong’s Chris Pit in the opener, 6-1, 6-0.
Race then made it three in a row after downing another ranked player—David Benwell of Canada. The CNMI Junior National Team coach earned his third consecutive straight set win when he eliminated the No. 6 Canadian, 6-0, 6-1. Benwell earlier topped Japan’s Kazuo Kobayashi, 7-5, 6-1, to march into the quarterfinals before falling short in his semis bid when he was defeated by Race.
In the semis, Race was pitted against France’s Eric Thorel, who went 3-0 before squaring off against the former. The French won over Hong Kong’s Andy Lai, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, Chinese-Taipei’s Feng-Tu Kang, 7-6 (2), 6-2, and China’s Yuanbo Hu, 6-0, 6-1, but had his streak snapped by Race. The many-time CNMI national team member swept Thorel in the semis, 6-2, 6-1, to set up a finals duel against No. 3 Chuen-Shu Hung, who knocked off No. 1 Tong-Yuan Yang of Chinese Taipei in the other Final Four pairing, 6-1, 6-0.
“I saw a bit of Hung’s semis game and knew he was a tough customer,” Race told Saipan Tribune.
The NMSA Coach of the Year awardee was right, as he battled back from a 0-3 deficit to eke out a 6-4 win over Hung in the first set. In the second set, it was another tough match for Race, but he managed to pull through, 6-3, to complete his conquest of the ITF Seniors event.
“I came to this tournament thinking I could lose in the first round or win it. It was the first age group event I’ve ever played, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When Hung went up in the first set, 3-0, I just kept my cool and tried to be more aggressive,” Race said. “At 58, I was glad to be able to go the distance.”
The CNMI player/coach credited his students for his title win in the ITF Seniors.
“I really owed this victory to my best students. Without them and the hours on the court I spend helping them hone their games, I wouldn’t have had what it takes to win this title,” Race said.
After winning the championship in his age group, the Micronesian Games multiple gold medalist stayed in Hong Kong to attend the Asian Coaches Conference, which will conclude today.