Roland Garros – Fritz & Parks Feted At Champions Dinner


Annually, Tuesday evening during the second week of Roland Garros is always memorable. That is when the International Tennis Federation’s World Champions Dinner takes place. At this year’s affair, held at the Pavillon Cambon Capucines in Paris, two of Southern Californian’s best – Taylor Fritz and Brad Parks – were among the game’s elite being recognized.

Fritz finished 2015 as the top junior in the Boys’ ITF rankings. As a result, he became the first player from the section to earn the coveted honor and the first player from the US to receive the award since Donald Young in 2005.

Taylor Fritz Photo Susan Mullane - camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz Photo Susan Mullane – camerawork usa

It is fitting that he was commended in the city where a year ago, he first earned the Boys’ Junior No. 1 ranking. In the Simple Garçons semifinals, he throttled French opponent, Corentin Denolly, 6-1, 6-2. Though he came up short in the final, dropping a three set contest to Tommy Paul, it was a newsworthy because two Americans faced off on the game’s most exacting surface – terre battue.

At Wimbledon, he was a semifinalist, as he had been in 2014, again losing to the eventual tournament winner. But, in New York, Fritz proved why in almost every match he played last season; he evidenced neon-flashing sign like – “Big Time Potential”. At the Open, where he turned pro, he achieved his ultimate goal, winning the Boys’ title.

Taylor Fritz with his mother Kathy May and Billie Jean King Photo Susan Mullane - camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz with his mother Kathy May and Billie Jean King Photo Susan Mullane – camerawork usa

Before the year ended and before he turned 18 on October 28th, he won two Challenger Tour events in Northern California. Fritz launched 2016 by capturing another Challenger championship in Happy Valley, Australia. He was, indeed more than happy when his good form continued and he qualified for the Australian Open.

Late in the year, his mother, Kathy May Fritz, a former top WTA performer, said, “It’s all pretty amazing since in September (2015), he was ranked in the 700’s.” It is even more impressive that his No. 67 ATP ranking gained him direct entry into the 2016 Roland Garros men’s draw.

Brad Parks Photo Susan Mullane - camerawork usa

Brad Parks Photo Susan Mullane – camerawork usa

Being honored at the Champions Dinner means that an individual is in very rarified company. Receiving the Philippe Chatrier Award is the ITF’s ultimate accolade. Named for the former player, Fédération Française de Tennis and ITF President, who passed away in June of 2000. It was first presented in 1996. Jack Kramer and Billie Jean King were 2002 and ’03 honorees respectively.

Parks, who became a member of the Southern California Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010, is known as the “Father of Wheelchair Tennis.” After suffering a disabling accident warming up for a freestyle skiing event as an 18-year-old, he began looking for a way to remain active. He found it. Tennis was the answer. Working with Jeff Minnenbraker, wheelchair tennis became a reality in 1976. Forty years later, it now has its own worldwide tournament circuit.

Brad Parks with some of the past Philippe Chatrier Award winners. Photo Susan Mullane - camerawork usa

Brad Parks with some of the past Philippe Chatrier Award winners. Photo Susan Mullane – camerawork usa

As a player, Parks was No. 1 in the world from 1980-89. When it came to titles, he was a National singles champion twelve times and the US Open doubles winner on eleven occasions. Even more significant, he founded the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis, which led to the development of the Wheelchair Tennis Players Association. Thanks to his influence, in 1988, the International Wheelchair Tennis Federation was formed to govern the sport internationally, and he served as its first President. Ten years later (1998), the organization was integrated into the ITF. In 1993, Parks received the ITF’s inaugural Special Service To The Game Award, which is now named in his honor and presented annually to the individual/organization that has made a noteworthy contribution to international wheelchair tennis.

Prior to the Champions Dinner, ITF President David Haggerty stated that since wheelchair tennis is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, it was the appropriate time to honor Parks, not only for his vision, but also for being such an inspiration. Simply stated -because of his perseverance, wheelchair tennis has now become the fastest growing Paralympic sport.

Fritz’s mother, Kathy, who attended the ceremony, added, “It was a great evening, and truly very special. I am so glad that I was able to share it with Taylor.”

Taylor Fritz and Brad Parks have continued a tradition of bringing honor to the United States Tennis Association by following the tennis pathway, which begins in Southern California.

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark’s Thoughts”





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