The busy season of winter resident activities is winding down in the East Valley, but at least one event has managed to attract 55 Australians and hundreds of other senior tennis players.
More than 500 players ages 50 to 84 have been competing all week at seven venues around the East Valley in the Valley of the Sun Super Senior and Senior National Tournament. About 10 percent of them traveled more than 8,000 miles to compete.
One was Dianne Tubb, who lives on the island of Tasmania off the southern Australian coast, where summer is turning into fall.
"It’s like it is here," she said, comparing climates. "We have a dry heat."
Most of the Australians are visiting on a tennis-travel tour package. Many had never met before they collected in the San Francisco airport for a 7 1 /2-hour layover.
One of the Australian women’s teams, the Koala Kids, will play in a final round today at Mesa’s Gene Autry Sports Complex. Another women’s team, the Wattlebirds, almost made it to the finals despite having to adjust to a style of play much slower than they’re accustomed to, with a greater emphasis on long, high shots.
"I was telling (another player), ‘I hate this tennis, but we’re winning,’ " Wattlebirds captain Val Daggers, 68, said while making a lobbing motion with her arm.
Most of the Australians have never been to Arizona before and have crammed stops at landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Apache Trail, Canyon Lake and Organ Stop Pizza.
In its fourth year, the Valley of the Sun tournament has drawn a record registration.
Tennis’ popularity as a sport has been waning over the past few years, but tournament director Ross Muirhead said the opposite has been happening among the senior citizens of today.
"We’re healthy, and we want to stay healthy," he said.
The finals for the senior division are being played 8 a.m. to noon today at the Gene Autry complex, 4125 E. McKellips Road, Mesa.