Photos | Courtesy the Catars
Tomas and Claudia Catar of Fairhope finished fifth in a national grass court tennis tournament
It is always nice when a father and daughter can spend time together while sharing common interests.
While some families prepare meals or plant gardens, Tomas and Claudia Catar have found another pastime they can pursue together — winning a national championship in tennis.
The Fairhope family recently finished in fifth place at the National Grass Court Father/Daughter Championships. The tournament took place at Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Mass., near Boston.
COMING TO AMERICA
Tomas is the tennis manager for the city of Fairhope. However, it has been a long and winding road to reach the Eastern Shore.
A native of Bratislava, Slovakia, he found much success playing in Europe and was ranked No. 1 on the International Tennis Federation junior circuit. He won a European junior championship title, was a junior semifinalist at the 1995 French Open and competed for his nation in the World Team Cup in 1999.
“I was on tour and got hurt,” Tomas told Lagniappe. “Scott Novak [now with the Mobile Tennis Center] was the coach at the University of South Alabama and he came to Slovakia to recruit several players. He reached out to one of my friends, and Scott is the reason I am in the United States.”
Tomas was going to play just one year at USA, but he ended up staying. While playing both singles and doubles, he said the Jaguars made it to the NCAA tournament.
“Then I had to make a decision on whether to go back on tour or to start coaching,” Tomas said. “I took the safer route.”
He would serve as an assistant coach with the USA women’s team. After a year, he got an offer to move up Interstate 65 and coach with Auburn University at Montgomery. After earning his bachelor’s degree with the Warhawks, Tomas began working at numerous tennis centers across the state.
“I was in Dothan and then locally at Mirror Lake, Heron Lakes and Gulf Shores,” Tomas said. “I have been in Fairhope for six years, and I hope to be here for some time. I have really enjoyed every minute of it.”
He is the only coach in Alabama to be awarded the Master of Tennis (Performance Coaching) title by the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). Tomas said this certification is equivalent to the highest International Tennis Federation coaching certification.
His other accomplishments include 2016 Alabama PTR Tennis Professional of the Year; national tester and workshop clinician for PTR national coaching certification workshops; U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) Alabama Junior Competition Committee member; founder and director of the Gulf Coast Tennis Association; 2018 USTA Southern Tennis Professional of the Year; 2018 USTA Alabama Tennis Professional of the Year; and 2021 Alabama PTR Tennis Professional of the Year.
Tomas said he has truly found a new home.
“I am 45, and I have spent the last 25 years in Alabama,” he said. “I have been here more than the time I spent in Europe.”
THE NEXT GENERATION
Another benefit of coming to Alabama was that Tomas met his wife, Natalie, in Mobile. Together they produced the other part of this story, their daughter, Claudia.
“I started playing tennis when I was 3 years old,” Claudia said. “I had tried dance and gymnastics, but I wanted to quit and play my daddy’s game.
“I entered my first tournament at 8. After my first match, I asked my daddy to teach me how to win. I’ve been traveling and competing in tournaments ever since.”
The 16-year-old junior at Fairhope High School competes in both singles and doubles at USTA events. She is ranked in the Top 10 in all groups in Alabama and among the Top 100 players in the South.
Claudia won the Alabama Junior Hard Court Singles Championship. She was the runner-up at the National Teen Championships in Arizona. Claudia was selected to represent Alabama at the Ozaki Cup in Rome, Ga., earlier this month.
She was on the Fairhope High team from the seventh grade through her freshman year. By the time she was a sophomore, she decided to focus more on USTA tournaments.
“I won sectionals each year that I played for my school,” she said. “I’m not sure about playing this year. I will see how the cards fall.”
GOING TO THE NATIONALS
The Catar family was aware there were national father-daughter tournaments. Then they learned about the grass-court event in Massachusetts.
“This was the first time I ever played on a grass court. It was really cool,” Claudia said. “My dad has played them in England a lot of times.”
That experience came in handy.
“The difference between hard courts and grass courts is like indoor volleyball and beach volleyball,” Tomas said. “There are different movements. On grass, the ball bounces 40 percent lower and so much faster. There are much more irregular bounces.”
This was an advantage for Claudia.
“She is a very aggressive player,” Tomas said. “There is a lot of serve and volleys. I knew she would do really good on this surface.”
The Longwood Cricket Club is one of the oldest facilities in America. Tomas said all-time greats like Rod Laver and Arthur Ashe have played there, as have the Davis Cup finals.
“Every match we had went to three sets,” Tomas said. “We eventually lost in the quarterfinals. We were up 10-9 and one point away, but we lost the tiebreaker 12-10. We were very close to reaching the finals.”
“They were all really good teams,” Claudia said. “We actually beat the team that won the previous year.”
It was also a special moment for Tomas. Two years ago he broke his right wrist. At that time, he was unsure if he could play competitively again.
“I was out using my left arm only for six months,” he said. “So this was already a win, without even placing in the tournament.”
The next opportunity for the family will be at the end of October. They have signed up for the USTA Family Clay Court Championships in Wellington, Fla.
Although they are pleased with their recent performance, they are not satisfied.
“When you win a sanctioned national title, you get a gold ball,” he said. “That is something to aim for.”
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