Still at the top of her game

Frequent flyer miles aren't the only thing that Tina Karwasky has been racking up over the past four years.

When the veteran Glendale tennis pro represents the United States in international competition, as she is currently doing in 31st International Tennis Federation Seniors World Championships, which began on Monday in Christchurch, New Zealand, she returns with championship hardware in tow.

"It's a thrill to represent the United States," Karwasky, 58, says. "Believe it or not, you get nervous playing these matches, more nervous than if you were just playing for yourself individually.

"Your knees start knocking and your throat gets dry. Everybody's yelling and cheering for each team, so it's pretty involved and nerve-wracking."

The pressure hasn't prevented Karwasky from leading the U.S. Maureen Connolly Cup team for women 55 and older to ITF Seniors World Championship titles every year that she's been on the team, beginning in 2008.

"We've had a good team, good players," Karwasky says. "When it came down to the crunch, we had good doubles teams when we play for that last point.

"The team camaraderie helps when you're down and feel like you're down in the dumps."

As the team's No. 1 singles player, who has also made some key doubles contributions, Karwasky has been at the center of an impressive run of titles for the U.S. team, which has a chance to win its fifth straight overall this year.

"She's been in these situations forever, I don't know how many years," Connolly Cup teammate Sherri Bronson says of Karwasky. "But you call on your past memories and she's able to not get down on herself if things are not going well. She can pull it back together."

Selection for the Cup team is based on performance in U.S. competition throughout the year. Karwasky has consistently retained her place on the team by maintaining high ITF and United States Tennis Assn. rankings. Last year, she was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in 55-and-over singles and No. 1 in doubles. She won National Indoors titles in singles and doubles, and the National Hard Court doubles title with teammate Mary Ginnard, who has been added to this year's Connolly Cup team. Karwasky finished the year as the No.1-ranked 55-and-older player in the world.

"It's important to play well all year round," Karwasky says. "It's pretty hard to do.

"The competition in the United States is pretty tough."

This year, Karwasky is the No. 2 singles player on the four-person Connolly Cup team that includes returners from the 2010 title-winning team in Mexico City in Bronson and Carolyn Nichols, as well Ginnard.

"She's very supportive, she's fun to play with," Ginnard says. "It took us a while to really jell because she's very quiet and she's very unassuming. But we have a great chemistry, the two of us, I think, and we complement each other very well. It's sort of easy while we're playing."

Karwasky has had some thrilling moments in past ITF Seniors World Championships. She was on the court playing doubles with Bronson for the final point of the U.S. team's win over the Netherlands in Mexico City.

"We won like 11 games in a row and we hardly spoke to each other because things were just going so perfectly we didn't want to say anything to jinx it," Bronson says. "I was serving for the 12th game and I lost my serve, but you win that final point for your country and you feel proud that you're able to perform when it really counted."

In her 2008 debut on the Connolly Cup team in Antalya, Turkey, Karwasky lost just two sets the entire week and just one over the final two rounds of play, as her team swept through five rounds of play without losing a match.

"We feel confident in her ability to pull out the tough matches, and that's nice," Bronson says. "It's just having confidence in someone never giving anything less than 100%."

The 2009 team was equally dominant over the first three rounds in Mallorca, Spain, losing only one set on its way to the final four before getting all it could handle from Great Britain.

Karwasky suffered her first loss in the semifinals in singles play, but returned in doubles to help the U.S. advance to the finals, where it defeated host Spain.

"The girls from England are always tough, they're super tough," says Karwasky, who forecasts Great Britain, the Netherlands, France and Australia as likely being the toughest challengers in this year's tournament, which concludes Saturday. "They play [well in] singles and they're great in doubles."

Karwasky's teammates have high praise for her as a leader and a partner.

"I admire how professional she is," Ginnard says. "She goes out and she plays and there's no dramatics, there's no controversy, she just goes out and plays. It's sort of like a job for her, she goes out and executes.

"She doesn't get a lot of credit because she's so quiet. She doesn't talk about her accomplishments at all. She's been No. 1 in the world numerous times, she's been No. 1 in the U.S. numerous times. She just really is professional about what she does and I think deep down inside, she just loves it."

Having recently retired from coaching at Cal State L.A. in 2009, Karwasky has enjoyed focusing more time on competing year round and of course the annual odyssey to defend the ITF title.

"I'm able to travel now and play in tournaments and enjoy myself," Karwasky says. Actually I'm busier now than ever. Every minute of my day is filled with something to do.

"[I stay ready by] going the extra mile, doing a little extra training, running, doing all the right things to stay in shape. You can't go to these events out of shape, that's for sure. You have to be on top of your game physically. If you're on top physically then the mental part is easier."

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