SCHENECTADY – After 14 years as tennis director at Sportime Schenectady, Philippe Ceas seems to be right at home, and that’s good because family and community are two things very important to him.
“I try to make sure we have a nice community here and make sure everyone enjoys themselves,” said Ceas, who left his home in Valence, France, back in 2004 and taught for three years at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills before landing his current position at the Curry Road facility in Rotterdam. “For kids and for adults, this can be like a second home, so our doors are always open. We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable here.”
Ceas jokes that overzealous parents and tennis brats never show up at Sportime Schenectady, and if they do, he wears them down with a gentle hand. The old adage, “an iron fist and a velvet glove” seems to fit when talking about him.
“Some parents are more difficult than others, but if you express your point of view and you’re pretty straightforward with it, they’ll eventually be OK with it,” said Ceas. “I get very little of that here. Sometimes they might not be OK with what I have to say right away, but after a while they’ll tell me, ‘Thank you.’”
Ceas picked up his first tennis racquet as a young boy growing up in Valence, located in southeastern France about 75 minutes from Lyon.
“I was about 5 when my mom, who played a lot and really enjoyed the game, put a racquet in my hand,” he remembered. “I had to hit the ball against the garage, and when I got so I could do it 10 times, they let me play on the court.”
Ceas began playing in tournaments as a junior, but not always against junior competition.
“It wasn’t the same as it is here, so I played against a lot of adults when I was a kid and learned how to hit a drop shot and use a lob,” he said. “When you’re young and you play adults, you learn how to make your way through the match.”
After finishing secondary school in Valence, Ceas went to ISTEC, a business and marketing college in Paris, and graduated after three years.
“I played some tennis there but not as much, and after graduating, I started playing some club tennis,” he said. “Then I met my wife, who is American, and had to choose one side of the ocean, and obviously we decided to come here.”
While his time at the West Side Tennis Club was short, Ceas says he enjoyed it.
“It’s a very nice club with a lot of great history,” he said. “They had the stadium where they played the U.S. Open, and there were grass courts, clay courts and hard courts. They also had an all-white dress code, and I had a lot of fun teaching there. I really got into the community. It was a good experience, but then we just wanted to try to make another life happen, so I decided to teach in the Capital Region.”
That was in 2008. His two kids have spent most of their life as residents of Loudonville, and his daughter Juliette was unbeaten at the No. 2 singles spot for Shaker High School last season.
Now 55, Ceas seldom competes in tournament tennis these days. Most of his competitive play takes place in the Pro League, which was re-introduced to the area two years ago after a long absence. Terry Casillo, who owns Players Choice Racquet Sports on Upper Union Street, says many people don’t realize just how good Ceas’s game is.
“I met him approximately 10 years ago, and in that time I don’t feel as if we’ve ever seen his full potential,” said Casillo. “I knew he would be a definite asset when they hired him at the club. I’ve had the honor to play with him and against him, and in my opinion, he really is one of the best players in the area.”
Scotia’s Bob Schmitz, who has played at the club since the 1970s, says Ceas was a welcome addition when he joined the staff 15 years ago.
“He gives us older guys some lessons and when he hits the ball with us he never misses,” said Schmitz, who was always ranked among the top players over the years in various age groups in the USTA-Eastern Section. “He’s a very good instructor, and a real gentleman in how he approaches people and runs the junior camp we have there. All I can say is good things about him. He has to deal with a lot of people, and he’s always very tactful in how he handles different situations. He’s a great guy and a real good role model for the kids.”
Getting to the top of the Southern Saratoga Tennis Ladder isn’t easy, and staying there is even harder.
Ladder director Julio Cau has an enthusiastic group of 30 to 40 people who compete on a regular basis, and if you do manage to reach the No. 1 position, don’t plan on resting on your laurels.
“Sometimes guys would get to No. 1 and then go on vacation,” said Cau, who took over for ladder creator Howard Kaplan about 10 years ago. “I’ve changed the system a little bit, and it rewards people for playing consistently and for effort. People get points for winning, and I give out bonus points just for playing. If you get to No. 1, but you don’t play consistently you’re not going to stay there. So the ladder rankings are changing every week.”
The age range of ladder participants varies widely (high teens through 70s), and Cau currently has three women in the rankings. Most of the players, he says, are somewhere between what would be a 3.0 to 4.0 USTA rating.
“We have some players that are 4.0, and if you are rated by the USTA, we can attach that to your name so people will know,” said Cau. “Most of the people are between 3.0 and 4.0, and sometimes we might have a 4.0 who plays like a 4.5, but players keep changing and skill levels change. The USTA rankings can help if a new player joins the ladder because it makes it easier for me to match them up with somebody close to that level.”
Currently ranked No. 6 in the ladder is Glenville’s Jason Morris, winner of a silver medal in judo at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
“Julio does a great job, and it’s perfect for meeting new players and getting partners at your level,” said Morris, who runs the Jason Morris Judo Center at 584 Route 50 in Glenville. “I played a lot of sports to cross-train during my judo career, including tennis, but started in this ladder three years ago following my hip replacement surgery. I have always been very competitive so I take it pretty seriously.”
Troy Filburn is currently No. 1 on the ladder, followed by Cau at No. 2. Rounding out the current top five, as of last week, are Brad Cranston, Tony Nuzzi and Bill Shanahan. The season starts in April and usually concludes in early October. While the clay courts in Saratoga State Park are a popular location for ladder matches, participants can set up a match anywhere. Other sites that get plenty of play are the courts at East Side Rec, Shenendehowa High School and Ballston Spa High School.
For more information, visit the Southern Saratoga Tennis Ladder website.
SCHENECTADY RANKED NO. 3
According to a new poll conducted by gambling.com, Schenectady is the third-best city in the state for tennis enthusiasts, behind only New York and Rochester.
Through the utilization of an index scoring system factoring in a number of different elements, gambling.com came up with a list of New York’s top tennis cities. Albany, by the way, is right behind Schenectady at No. 4, and Syracuse rounds out the top five.
The primary reason for Schenectady’s lofty perch is obviously Central Park. The USTA-Eastern Section holds a lot of league play at Central Park for local players during the week, and on the weekends it has been the site of a number of sectional and regional events, bringing in players from around New York and New Jersey.
Beginning with the weekend of June 3-5, Central Park has hosted a USTA event five times this summer and two more are scheduled for Sept. 9-11 and 16-18.
15-LOVE OFFERING LESSONS
If you think you’re too old to take tennis lessons, think again.
15-LOVE, usually restricted for junior players, will be offering a five-week session of free lessons for kids and adults Saturdays at the Michigan Avenue courts beginning Sept. 10.
It’s called the Fall Rally Family Tennis Class, and if you’ve always wanted to play tennis and never tried it, this is the perfect time to start. Families are encouraged to participate in the series, and children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Adults can feel free to come on their own.
The five-week program is free for children and $25 for adults. If you don’t have your own equipment, racquets can be purchased at the courts for $20, but email prior to class and it will be there ready for you. For more information, visit www.15love.org.
15-LOVE was created with the help of tennis great Arthur Ashe back in 1990, and is sponsored by the Capital Region Youth Tennis Foundation and the USTA.
ZACHARCZENKO ADDS TWO TITLES
Trying to beat Nick Zacharczenko on a pickleball court is like trying to pull teeth.
After winning a gold medal in the 60-64 division at the Empire State Games earlier this summer, the retired-Ballston Lake dentist has added two more titles to his credit.
Zacharczenko traveled to New Hampshire recently to win the 60-64 age group gold medal in the Granite State Senior Pickleball Games, and spent another weekend in August winning the 60-64 gold medal in the pickleball competition at the Massachusetts Senior Games.
A Delaware County-native, who grew up near Delhi, Zacharczenko has also been ranked in various age divisions as a tennis player by the USTA-Eastern Section. And he just doesn’t play racquet sports. He has also competed on a high level in the Empire State Senior Games track and field competition in the 100- and 200-yard dash, as well as the javelin throw.