Tennis isn't just for youngsters — it's a lifetime sport. Four Howard Countians — Jennie and Jim Murduck, Hedy Brandt and Mark Taylor — brought home gold, silver and bronze from the recent Summer National Senior Games, in Houston.
The Murducks won the mixed doubles title in dramatic fashion. Jennie paired with Brandt to finish second in women's doubles. They lost the championship in a tie-break. And Jim and Taylor placed third in men's doubles, winning in a tie break. All were competing in the 50-54 age group. For Brandt, 61, that meant playing down two age groups.
All four qualified at last fall's Maryland Senior Olympics for the National Games, which take place every two years.
"I thought it would be cool when I turned 50 to do the National Senior Olympics," Jennie Murduck said. Her father was a world-class miler and qualified for the 1952 Olympics but he wasn't able to participate because of a heart murmur, she said.
She and her husband have played in a number of tournaments around Columbia, but weren't certain what type of competition they would face in Houston. Turns out it was often intense.
"People come from so far to play. They had a lot on the line," Jim Murduck said.
The Murducks' 50 mixed doubles final did not get off to a good start. Jennie had just finished the women's doubles semifinal, which she and Brandt won in a tie break third set, 12-10. Dashing to the mixed doubles final, she opted not to warm up and soon worried that she had made a big mistake.
"They were kicking our rear in the first set," Jim Murduck said. "The guy was especially good."
"They made us look sick," Jennie said.
But after the first set, the duo decided to switch sides of the court, and that changed their luck.
"And we brought our game up to the next level," Jennie said. "Next thing you know, we were winning."
At the senior nationals, teams play two regular sets then a 10-point tie break, if a third set is needed.
The Murducks split the first two sets with their opponents, who were from Washington state. That brought the match to a deciding 10-point tie break, and they were able to win a couple points off the guy's serve.
The critical point, Jim Murduck said, came with him and the net and his wife serving.
"You never look around at your teammate," he said. "But I happened to look around and she had hammered the ball right at my head. I had to belly flop on the court to keep from getting hit."
His action screened Jennie's serve and the ball careened off the opponent's racket, making the score, 9-6, and match point.
The Murducks won, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 1-0 (6).
"That was probably one of the most intense victories we've ever had," Jim said.
Although both are 4.5 rated players and they've known each other for years, Jennie Murduck and Brandt, who is nine years older, are normally not doubles partners.
"We just paired up for the Senior Olympics to see if we could make it," Murduck said. "I picked Hedy because she's very steady, and she was."
Murduck and Brandt were one of 13 women's doubles teams entered in the 50-54 category. Their first match was a 6-0, 6-0 breeze. Then things got progressively tougher.
Although they won the second match, 7-5, 6-1, Brandt said it could have gone either way until Murduck took over at the net.
"Jennie intimidated them in that second set, she was all over the net."
Brandt said her role on the team is the "setter-upper" on the base line.
"Jennie's the volleyball player and she jumps in for the kill."
After winning, 6-4, 1-6, 1-0(10), in the semifinals, Murduck and Brandt met their match in the finals against a pair of Californians representing Hawaii.
Even then, they came oh, so close. Up, 7-5, in the 10-point tie break, Murduck and Brandt lost the next five points and the match, 7-5, 5-7, 1-0 (7).
"We were three points away from winning the gold, but I'm very happy with winning the silver," said Brandt. "We were very happy representing Maryland.
Brandt's Anne Arundel County USTA team won the 4.0 senior women's national title last October.
Both women wish that there were more people who played in the Maryland Senior Olympics.
There were four teams in the 50-54 men's doubles and if they played each other again the results might have gone in an entirely different direction, Jim Murduck said. The competition was that close. Both of their matches went to tie breaks.
Jim Murduck and Taylor lost, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 1-0 (9) in the semifinals.
"That was a tough loss to take," he said.
They won the third-place match, 1-6, 6-4, 1-0 (5).
The next National Senior Games will be held n 2013 in Cleveland and Murduck said he and his wife are looking forward to defending their mixed doubles title.