By John Goralski
Megan Fitzgerald skipped a forehand into the corner and she walked to the net in a muted celebration. Fitzgerald’s final point had clinched the championship at the Wayton Open, but there was no awkward handshake or wild cheering.
Fitzgerald just met her opponent at the net and the two melted into a warm hug. That’s what happens when you beat your sister in the championship match.
“Sister versus sister. I don’t think anyone has had that in any tournament—except for the Williams sisters,” said tournament director Matt Wayton. “It was really great to see. There were a lot of good players in that bracket with a lot of top high school players, but Megan came through pretty decisively. Then, she had to beat her sister in the finals, and that’s pretty hard to do.”
On Sunday, July 20, the 2014 Wayton Open Tournament finally came to an end after two weeks of competition and 154 matches with an orchestrated day of finals matches on the high school courts. Eric Henne shuffled on and off the courts for three final matches. Perennial favorites like Dennis Scarpa and Mark Habek were spotlighted in championship matches. For the second straight year, Laurie Nash and Roxanne Kilpatrick edged Robin Thompson and Lucille Hage in the womens doubles finals.
Familiar faces, bitter rematches, and even a sibling rivalry. Championship Sunday had all the excitement of a world class event.
“The second weekend is all about the good players,” said Wayton. “It’s the cream of the crop rising to the top.”
On Championship Sunday Wayton crowned seven division champions, but Nash-Kilpatrick was the only returning champion. Kilpatrick edged her sister, Kayla, for the women’s singles title. Bruce Fiermonte edged Jim Sheehan in split sets to capture the over 45 men’s title, and Wayton managed to snatch hardware at his own event with a four-set victory over Dave Fahey in the mens B-singles championship.
For two weeks, Wayton had to balance his role as tournament director with a full schedule of matches in the lower division.
“That’s why we separate the As and the Bs. I can’t compete in the higher division, but the Bs are more at my level,” he said. “It wasn’t easy though. It’s not like it was a cake walk. We had 50 people in our bracket. It was a huge draw with a lot of great players from around the state. I went three sets almost every round, and I was at match point against a middle schooler where I could have been out two rounds ago. It was tough.”
On the other hand, nobody had a tougher road than Eric Henne. The Newington High School coach battled to the finals in three different divisions and swept the championship round. Henne beat former champion Dennis Scarpa to capture the A-division title in a match that saw two tiebreaker sets. He partnered with Habek for a win over Jim Sheehan Sr. and Jim Sheehan Jr. and teamed with his mother for a victory over former champions Habek and Cara Higgins in the mixed doubles finals.
“He had to go through a lot of good players,” said Wayton. “He took out Dr. [Ben] Doolittle, our former champion. He took out last year’s champion, Dennis Scarpo. Mentally, he didn’t let anybody get into his head. He came out here so focused, and he just executed.”
This marked the first time that the tournament culminated in a two day event with semifinal bouts on Saturday and championship matches the following day. Other than a few rainouts at the start of the second week, everything went off as scheduled.
After some scheduling nightmares and weather challenges last year, Wayton hopes that this year’s tournament marks a new, fan-friendly event. He credits his staff of current and former Blue Knights, friends, and supporters as the catalyst for this season’s success.
The tournament committee included Chris Zissus (technical advisor), Niraj Kutaria (raffle director), Matt Downes, James Nitz, Kunal Kataria, Zaya Oshana, Roxanne Kilpatrick, and Grant Ogrin.
“We were all solid. We were all on the same page, and they were such a big help. I really couldn’t have done this without them,” said Wayton. “I think we really stabilized the tournament this year. It was chaotic last year, but we only had one or two hiccups this year. I think that people are going to come back, and I think that they’re going to tell their friends.”
The tournament provides the main funding for the Wayton Open Scholarship, which has awarded over $1800 in scholarships to Southington High School graduates over the last three years. Next year, he plans to add a boys and girls high school bracket and separate the mens doubles bracket into a higher and lower division. The changes are designed to grow the scholarship fund.
“We want to keep adding divisions every year to keep growing and keep adding money to the scholarships,” he said. “We want it to get bigger every year. Last year we gave out $350 to two boys. This year, we want to give out two $400 scholarships, and all of that comes from this tournament.”
Wayton will have a few days to rest. Then, it’s back to work for next year.
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By John Goralski