Claude England is using the Maryland State Clay Court tennis championships as a tune-up for upcoming national tournaments, but he'll have a bit of incentive going into today's semifinals at the Baltimore Country Club.
Facing Mike Castrilli, the tournament's defending champion and 3 seed, England, 36, advanced to today's semifinals with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 quarterfinal win yesterday.
England, the No. 5 seed, will face No. 2 seed Jon Coss in one semifinal today, and No. 1 seed Gil Schuerholz will play No. 4 seed Mike Clark in the other. The semifinal matches will begin at noon, with the finals scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Rain postponed Friday's matches, moving the singles quarterfinals to yesterday.)
Last year, England earned the the No. 2 national ranking for players 35 and over, but along the way he was beaten by Clark in the semifinals of the clay-court tournament. He's hoping against a similar fate when he faces Coss, the man he defeated in the championship match in 1989.
"It will be a real challenge for [the eventual champion] to come back strong for two matches in a row [today]," England said. "But I feel good going into the matches. I felt good about my win [yesterday]."
And England looked good in his win over Castrilli, a 21-year-old who won the Maryland Hard Court title earlier this year and who plays at Idaho State. Although England first picked up a tennis racket five years before Castrilli was born, the older player appeared to have fresher legs and was all over the court as he frustrated his opponent throughout the match.
A native of New Zealand who went on to a career at the University of Maryland, England is using the clay-court championships to sharpen his game for the national tennis championships (35-and-over group) in Hilton Head, S.C., beginning Sept. 13. He also fine-tunes his game as the tennis pro at Chestnut Ridge Country Club.
"I use this tournament as preparation for the [nationals] and I try to get myself to peak for certain events," England said. "You can't prepare by just practicing, you have to play matches.
England will be facing a slightly older opponent today in Coss, 27, who advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 win over Howard Hauptman. Coss, a former player at North Carolina who is now a stockbroker with Wheat First Securities in Bethesda, said the age difference against players such as England makes no difference.
"Claude must have been really tough to play against when he was younger because even today when you play him it hurts," said Coss, whose work limits him to about three tournaments a year. "If he beat [Castrilli], he has to be good."
In the other matches yesterday, Clark, the runner-up last year, advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Roberto Castillo; and Schuerholz reached the semifinals by beating unseeded Dave Pessin, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).