The top-seeded Italian team showed no mercy during a convincing eight-game sweep and stomping of the newly assembled Costa Rican beach tennis team.
Jeff Duchesneau and his friend and teammate Sven Sauer barely had time to introduce themselves before being knocked out without winning a match in the first round of the Sunshine State Slam held May 3-4 in Miami.
Despite the resounding loss, the two are undaunted in their quest to popularize beach tennis in Costa Rica.
The game is a strange new hybrid of tennis and beach volleyball that the men say is growing in popularity around the globe.
“You kind of feel the energy and the vibe growing in the atmosphere,” said the 35-yearold Duchesneau, originally from the U.S. state of Massachusetts. “It’s building steam.”
The sport mostly follows tennis rules, but players hit the ball, a depressurized, six-pound Pro Penn Star model tennis ball, into the air over a 70-inch-tall net. A point is scored when the ball hits the sand. Other rules diverge from tennis. Servers surrender points with a single fault, and instead of entering deuce at 40-all, the game is decided in sudden death.
Duchesneau and Sauer lost to all three teams in their group during round-robin play in the Miami tournament. But the duo found a silver lining by nearly stealing a couple of games from the Italian juggernaut of Alex Mingozzi and Matteo Marighella, last year’s Italian national champions, who swept the finals. Marighella, who played with France’s Bertrand Coulet in last year’s Miami event, was defending a title.
“The highlight for us … had to be playing the Italians,” said Duchesneau, who had scouted their opponents’ game on YouTube prior to the tournament. “They move really good in the sand. They’re very fluid.”
The Tico team also lost 8-1 and 9-7 to two U.S. teams.
Though they failed to win a match in Saturday’s professional tournament, the Costa Rican transplants were pleased to advance to the semifinals of the amateur tournament on Sunday, Duchesneau said.
Duchesneau and Sauer decided to enter the tournament late, leaving themselves only about a week to train. But they practiced at 6 a.m. every day in anticipation of playing world-class opponents.
“We played in the rain, played into the night,” said Sauer, 35, originally from Wiesbaden, Germany. “I think for the time we had to prepare, we did very well.”
Both athletes want to improve their serves to be competitive in future professional matches. Sauer also thinks he should improve his backhand. But there were positive signs.
“Drop shots and defense. I think we did that very well,” Sauer said.
They may play beach tennis, but, in a country famous for its sandy coastlines, neither Duchesneau nor Sauer lives at the beach. Duchesneau, general manager of mail and shipping company Aerocasillas, S.A., lives in Heredia, north of the capital. And while Sauer works as an inventory manager for Hermosa Highlands Real Estate, which develops mainly in the central Pacific beach town of Jacó, he resides in the western San José neighborhood of Rohrmoser.
The two friends, members of a small group of Costa Rican beach tennis enthusiasts, started playing last year after discovering the sport on the Internet.
Duchesneau searched for tennis groups on the popular networking site Facebook and “this logo came up,” he said. That logo belonged to Beach Tennis USA, the group that is trying to popularize the sport in the United States under the leadership of commissioner and founder Marc Altheim.
Altheim, a 45-year-old real estate developer in New York City, discovered the sport while vacationing in Aruba, where Sjoerd de Vries, founder of the Aruba Beach Tennis Foundation, introduced the sport.
“My first reaction was shock,” Altheim told The Tico Times. “I’m a racquet guy and … when I saw tennis being played on the beach, I was licking it up like the newest flavor from Häagen-Dazs.”
De Vries reportedly discovered beach tennis in his native Holland, according to Beach Tennis USA’s Web site.
Though beach tennis has not yet exploded in the United States, its popularity has expanded substantially on that country’s coasts.
“Tens of thousands have played the sport,” Altheim said. “It’s a very serious game played at a very high level.”
The Miami event garnered coverage from the Tennis Channel, New York local sports channel SNY and the Comcast cable network.
“Obviously there’s a thirst for content,” Altheim said. “We filled that thirst.”
Sauer estimates that about 500 people wandered off the beach to watch the games.
“It was a big show,” he said. “There was music there. There were commentators. There were models.Very nice, actually … It’s a big party. Tennis with some booze.”
Sauer and Duchesneau hope to serve a role in Costa Rica similar to Altheim’s in the United States.
“The great thing about this tournament was that we made so many contacts,” Sauer said.
The men hope to start a professional event in Costa Rica by next year. They think the country, with its gorgeous beaches and weather, may be the ultimate destination for beach tennis.
“I think (Sauer and Duchesneau) got it,” Altheim said, referring to the qualities necessary to start a beach tennis cell in Costa Rica. “We take baby steps first.”
Don’t expect the team to jump ship and play for their original homelands in the near future. Both men are married to Ticas and have lived here for about a decade.
“(The announcers kept saying) ‘They don’t really look like Costa Ricans,’” Sauer said. “They gave us a hard time.”
The men weren’t the only ones enjoying the good life. The women were treated to a day at the spa and a fancy meal in the absence of their husbands. The men hope their wives, experienced tennis players themselves, will join them on the tour one day.
And Sauer thinks he may have fathered a prodigy, his 4-year-old son Luka, who already has a tennis coach and has practiced with his dad.
The allure of the sport is the same for both players: the prospect of competition at the highest level combined with old-fashioned fun in the sun.
“You can be a professional athlete (in beach tennis),” Sauer said. “You learn it so fast. It’s much easier to learn than real tennis.”
“Living in Costa Rica for 10 years has rubbed off on me,” Duchesneau said. “If I can choose to be on a hard court or in the sand, barefoot and shirtless with board shorts, I’ll be on the beach every time.”
For info on beach tennis in Costa Rica, contact Jeff Duchesneau at [email protected] or visit www.beachtenniscr.com.