Age no deterrent

At 51, Columbia’s Skip Walther chosen to play for the United States
Monday, April 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:49 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Numbers always seem to lie regarding Skip Walther.

Take his age: His birth certificate says he is 51, but Missouri tennis coach Blake Starkey says watching Walther play at Green Tennis Center brings that number into question.

“He’s walking around in a 25-, 30-year-old body,” Starkey said. “I want his fitness program.”

Numbers also have skewed Walther’s chances of being selected for international tennis competition.

Walther, a Columbia resident, is the No. 6 men’s singles player in the United States Tennis Association’s 50-and-older rankings. This seemed to leave Walther two spots away from joining the four-man United States team for the Fred Perry Cup in Antalya, Turkey.

The memory of 2001, when he was No. 2 but was not selected for international competition, added to Walther’s pessimism.

In March, the numbers proved wrong again. He was selected and will represent the United States in the tournament May 3-8.

“I was a little surprised,” Walther said.

The Fred Perry Cup, which is similar to the Davis Cup, will determine the 50-and-older World Team Champions.

The USTA contacted Walther before his selection to see whether he would be available to play, but he said that didn’t make his invitation less surprising.

Bob Litwin, the captain of last year’s team and a member of the committee that chose this year’s squad, said the selections were based on several factors.

“It wasn’t going to be picked strictly on ranking,” Litwin said.

Litwin said Mark Peterson from La Quinta, Calif., the No. 4 player, will not play in the tournament because it is played on clay and he does not play on that surface.

In 2001, there were several similar factors that Walther said he believes kept him from being selected.

Sal Castillo did not have as high a USTA ranking as Walther but earned a spot because he was No. 1 in the International Tennis Federation’s rankings in his age group.

Litwin said Walther’s resume this year was strong enough to merit his selection.

Walther was a singles finalist and took third in doubles at the 2003 USTA National 50-and-older Grass Championships, finished third in doubles in the 2003 Indoor Championships and won singles and doubles at the 2003 Missouri Valley Sectional 45 tournament.

Walther was also the 2002 National Senior Grass Court champion and the 2002 Missouri Valley Player of the Year.

Walther began playing tennis at 15 and played at Missouri from 1972-75, but law school separated him from the sport for some time.

“I kind of put tennis on hold,” Walther said

Walther came back to the sport at 35 and has played competitively since.

Bob Reys, who was a faculty member when Walther was at Missouri and has played with him since, said Walther’s skills have not diminished with age.

“In many respects, Skip’s a better player now than he was in college,” Reys said.

Reys said Walther has developed one skill in particular that gives him an advantage almost every match.

“He’s got a great serve,” Reys said.

Despite Walther’s physical talents, Reys said his work ethic and cerebral approach to the game are most responsible for his improvement.

Starkey said Walther frequents Green Center often and watches almost all of his team’s matches.

“I just think he’s fascinated with tennis,” Starkey said.

Starkey said studying the game is something that helps Walther improve.

“By doing that, you make yourself a better player,” Starkey said.

Starkey said Walther’s hard work and intelligence are evident in other aspects of his life. He is a lawyer and he hosted the local radio program “Columbia P.M.” on KFRU full time from about a week after the 2000 elections to March 2003.

In 2001, Walther moderated a forum on Social Security the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee held in Columbia.

In addition, he was editor of the Boone County Bar Association newsletter for more than six years.

“Skip’s a bright, bright man,” Starkey said.

John Pesckamp from Cincinnati, Tom Smith from Alphareta, Ga. And Oliver Scott from Roswell, Ga. will join Walther on the team. The United States has won three out of the past five Fred Perry Cups, but took eighth last year after losing to Germany, the eventual champion.

Walther has participated in prestigious tournaments in the United States and Canada and said they are no different as far as style of play, but that doesn’t mean the Fred Perry Cup will be just another tournament.

“The event makes it different,” Walther said.

Walther played on the national team in a tournament in Canada and said it is an exciting experience.

“It affects you,” Walther said. “It really gets your adrenaline going.”

Walther said he will probably participate in singles and doubles at the tournament.

Whatever Walther plays, he should be successful, Reys said.

“He’ll be tough to beat,” Reys said.

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