Comeback stories in pro tennis get a lot of attention.
Most recently, of course, you had Rafael Nadal, having not played competitive tournament tennis in almost six months due to a knee injury, winning his record-breaking 21st major singles title at the Australian Open.
Back in 2017, Roger Federer won the Australian Open in similar circumstances. Billie Jean King had many comebacks in her career from knee surgeries and Monica Seles came back after an on-court stabbing.
In the cozy beachside community of Vero Beach, Florida, there was another tennis comeback that virtually no one is talking about, but is just as inspiring to an extent.
Christophe Delavaut, the popular and charismatic director of tennis at Vero Beach’s The Boulevard Tennis Club, had not played any type of competitive tennis in nine months and, more incredibly, was six months removed from major heart surgery. He only recently returned to the court to teach lessons.
But after a last minute scratch at the club at the town’s competitive “King of the Hill” tournament, that benefits at-risk children in Vero Beach, Delavaut was thrust back into competitive tennis.
During the staging of the opening round of the 50-and-over edition of the event on Thursday, February 3, Gabriel Barnabei of The Legacy club was a late scratch for the event minutes before the start of play, and Delavaut, three decades plus removed from his Division II All-American college career at Franklin Pierce College, was the only qualified and available last-minute substitute. The show must go on and there were over 150 paying fans – as well as sponsors – who paid money to watch tennis and raise money for the local charity, Youth Guidance.
“Hope you are going to pull out the compression socks,” said a club member to Delavaut, known for wearing colorful versions of the wraps around his calves, as he walked to his office to prepare for play.
The color choice for this evening was blinding bright pink.
After the first of three set rotations on the court (each player playing a set with each player), Karim Balagh, who works for Delavaut as a pro at The Boulevard, pulled his hamstring and could barely walk, let alone play.
Christian Docter, the 20-something pro at Sea Oaks who was watching his boss Joe Biedenharn play on the court, was then recruited to sub for Balagh so, once again, the show could go on. Of course, he could not advance into the final based on his age. So of the three remaining 50-something competitors on the court, two would advance to the final, along with the top two finishers from the other court of competitors.
Delavaut, Biedenharn, Docter and the fourth, Emile de Cuba of the Ocean Village club, then produced some of the most entertaining “King of the Hill” shot-making many could remember. Angled shots and precision volleys were the fired back and forth. Delavaut threw in an underhand ace of Docter and Biedenharn hit an around-the-post forehand winner off a sharply angled volley that certainly would have made the ESPN “Top 10” if someone had been filming with their Iphone.
Delavaut, and his pink compression socks, went from last minute replacement to then qualifying for the men’s 50 finals on February 17 along with Biedenharn and, from the other court, Henner Lenhardt from Sea Oaks and Tom Brueggeman, the winner of the event’s open division in 2001 and 2002.
The winner and runner-up of the King of the Hill “Open Division” (to be played Thursday March 3) receive a main draw wild card doubles entry in to the $15,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships ITF World Tennis Tour and USTA Pro Circuit event to be played April 25-May 1.