Suarez & Johnson Dominate: Record Attendance for the Tennis Plaza African American Tennis Tourny

Half the players shown here. All in there were 89 players from 10 different countries.

Orlando, Florida- An exponentially increased field and new champions were crowned this year at the Tennis Plaza 2nd Annual African American Tennis Tournament. The events took place at the City of Orlando Tennis Center on October 24-25th, 2015. Champions were crowned in the Men's Open Singles, Women's Open Singles, Open Doubles, and junior champs in the Commissioner Regina I. Hill District 5 Tennis Open for Kids. The events were sponsored by Tennis Plaza, Orlando Commissioner Regina I. Hill,, and the Orlando Tennis Center Directed by Tennis Hall of Famer Tom Sweitzer. Co-sponsored by, David Roberts & the Sounds of Sinatra, Conrad Cowan of the USPTA, and Produced by Dragon Promotions & Orlando Synergy Marketing.

Semi-Finalist "Bear Heart" Bejar & the Champion "Iceman" Suarez with their Guizar Academy coaches

This year's event drew players from all over the world including Brazil, Mexico, Aruba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Colombia, Lebanon the Philippines, and the United States. A total of 89 players in all the divisions. A dramatic increase from last year's 30 players!

Event producer Charlie Williams welcomes the players

Several 6.0 open class pro players participated including Vitor Schepper, USTA Clay Court Open Winter Park Champion & Runner-up Felipe Resende and Santiago Garcia. But only pro Giancarlo "The ​

​Dominican Express"

Escotto survived the onslaught by the strong field of tennis academy teenage talents.

An early premonition of things to come came when #7 seed Santiago Suarez faced off against #1 seed Tayjhon McGee in the quarter-finals for the right to return the next day for the Final Four. Suarez surprised everyone with a score of 6-0, 6-0 to advance.

Last year's 2nd place finisher McGee finished 5th in the super tough field

The first semi-finals featured Mexico's Rafael Bejar squaring off against Aruba's Kyle Frankel of Montverde Tennis Academy. It was a mixed bag to whom was going to be the victor. #8 seed Frankel had won the day before with ease in his 3 matches dropping only 3 games and winning 28 games. Bejar had a tougher route. "The Bear Heart" Bejar started with a tough 8-5 decision over Ortiz of Mexico, defeated 6.0 pro Felipe Resende of Brazil 8-4, and then had a heart tester against fellow teammate Alejandro Hernandez 7-6, 2-6, and then 11-9 in the deciding tie-break. So a total of 46 games played. That level of energy used showed up as the "Kool Killer" Frankel was looking fresh for the semi-finals. Excellent tennis exchanges by both semi-finalists. But Frankel turned up the notch and dominated the match. His ability to open the court up using the angles very well was too much on that day for Bejar to retaliate.

Meanwhile, the Women's Finals was electrifying! Local Orlando women talents Sandy Johnson and Virginia "Ginny" Minns were the last two standing to vie for the crown. Johnson literally had the home court advantage as she is one of the managers of the Orlando Tennis Center. The two ladies had extensive rallies, exhibited great patience, and strategy. After 2 hours of gutsy tennis, and a massive need to resurface the court with new clay from all their scrambling, it was Sandy "Represent" Johnson that prevailed in straight sets 6-1, 6-4.

"I'm so thrilled that I did so well, got a trophy, and won money doing something I love and would do anyway!", said an ecstatic Ginny Minns. She is married to former World Deaf Tennis Champion Brad Minns. "Now I get to tell my husband I won more money than he did this year playing tennis!"

"I'm just glad I represented my home courts well, and it's nice to get the money!", said Johnson.

In the Open Doubles, the deadly duo of James Nguyen & Hung Do returned to defend their title at this event. This year they faced a more diverse field, including Lebanon's Omar Ammouni & Rene Pienovi of Brazil. Though Ammouni and Pienovi were a solid pairing, it was hard to stop the experience of Nguyen & Do who won the finals convincingly to retain their title successfully.

"We just feel lucky. I've been playing with Hung for many years so we know each other well. I just wish I knew ahead of time how good these academy kids are in the singles!", said Nguyen. James is widely ragrded as the best Vietnamese player in Central Florida with multiple titles at the annual Vietnamese Open.

In the Men's Semi-Finals on court 1, #2 seed Giancarlo "Dominican Express" Escotto faced off against Santiago Suarez. Suarez was the #7 seed as well as the highest ranked ITF player in the tournament. Escotto was billed by many players and fans as the universal favorite to win the match and the tournament. A former Davis Cup player for the Dominican Republic, "The Dominican Express" packed the biggest power game of the event. Escotto's huge serve, heavy ground strokes, made him a strong presence on the court. But the amazingly poised Suarez was not intimidated and kept his calm, cool precision game intact.

Escotto "The Dominican Express" looked unstoppable

Suarez's offense was his defense. His excellent reactionary skills allowed him to be in almost every point. Playing with the poise of a veteran, Suarez's icy game eventually frustrated Escotto into unforced errors. Those errors became insurmountable and led to the Express's demise in a 6-4 , 6-3 upset. Santiago was dubbed the "Iceman" after his stellar semi-finals play.

The Men's Finals seemed like a mirror image on paper. Both players were teenagers (16 year old Frankel & 17 year old Suarez respectively), one was seeded #7 and the other #8, and both were the premiere players of their respective academies, Monteverde Tennis.. Both players seemed calm, cool, collective. Both players exhibited the patience of an aged professional with a counter puncher style of tennis, waiting for their opportunities before going hard. The fans and experts were in a toss up on who would win. It was to be "Killer Kool" vs "The Iceman", and no one could decide for sure.

Frankel took first blood being more of the aggressor and took a 2-0 lead, the first time Suarez had faced a deficit thus far in the tournament. Frankel fans nodded their heads in improvement while Suarez believers started to wonder if this "Iceman" armor was fading. And then Suarez turned up the notch and started playing consistently deep ground strokes, and eventually forced points into his direction. And then surprisingly, Frankel let out some verbal frustrations for the first time in the event. This seemed to fuel Suarez further, and soon more unforced errors came from Frankel.

The smooth, consistent play of Iceman Suarez kept him out of danger every match

Frankel used the court well hitting inside-out forehands and tried to open up the court. But the icy style of Suarez left little margin for error. Nothing seemed to fade the prowess of Suarez. He won the 1st set 6-3 coming back, and then came out strong the 2nd set in a 4-0 sprint. Frankel showed some life stopping Suarez in the 5th game, but could not persuade him away from the win and the Iceman took down the title, trophy, and the cash with the 6-1 rout in the final set.

OTC Facility Director Tom Sweitzer with "Iceman", Commissioner Hill & "Killer Kool"


Consolation tournament was won by Santiago Garcia and Vojtech Hrncirik of the Czech Republic who split the finals.

8 new tennis racquets were awarded to the Top 8 kids in the District 5 Tennis Open as well as a family dinner certificate to Vincenzo Cucina Italiana, Orlando's #1 Italian Restaurant.

Kids from all over downtown Orlando participated in Commissioner Hill's free entry District 5 Tennis Open

Local talents Cesar Andini #1 for Oakridge Highschool, Alejandro Herrera who showed a lot of grit the first round when he nearly toppled Tayjhon McGee , once leading 4-1, and then down 7-4, he came back to tie at 7-7 before McGee won 9-7. Avalon Park's Aaron Pobocik and downtown's Omar Sanchez also returned. Jacksonville's Dennis Turner, Jason Sykes, and John Jackson returned for the second straight year while The Central Florida Asian community was well represented by James Nguyen and Khoa Nguyen.

(trophy picture of names)

Thanks to Saigon Sizzle and the Pastrami Project for being there to feed the hungry tennis people!

quotes from players: (click for videos)

Prize money, Trophies, & Award Certificates signed by Orlando City Commissioner Regina I. Hill

Men's Open

1st $450 Santiago "Iceman" Suarez

2nd $200 "Killer Kool" Kyle Frankel

3-4th $100 Giancarlo "Dominican Express" Escotto & Rafael "The Bear Heart" Bejar

5th-8th Tayjhon McGee. Omar Sanchez. Alejandro Hernandez. Andres Blancas.

Women's Open

1st $70 Sandy "Represent" Johnson

2nd $40 Virginia "Ginny" Minns

Doubles Open

1st James Nguyen & Hung Do

2nd Omar Ammouni & Rene Pienovi

3rd-4th Dennis Turner & Bill Davidson. - Cesar Andini & Rayshawn Skerritt

Consolation Tourny

1st Vojtech Hrncirik & Santiago Garcia

3rd Justen Louis

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Oakridge High #1 Cesar Andini getting some seasoning in this open class field

Coach Jerry Fekete, Tom Sweitzer, & Charlie Williams were the men running the show

TThe next Rafa Nadal? Practicing for future photo ops

Champions picture on a perfect weather orlando day at the OTC

To the victors go the spoils!

Thank you to Tennis Plaza of Orlando for their tremendous support!

Ammouni/Pienovi are runner-ups with the 2x Defending Champs Nguyen & Do

Johnson & Minns with Coach Brad Minns