ELYRIA — Sonny Dukeman doesn’t let a thing like aging stand in his way when it comes to tennis.
The 58-year old proved he has more than enough of what it takes to get the job done for the second year in a row at Sunday’s Lorain County Community College Tennis Classic.
The 1971 Elyria Catholic graduate combined talents with son Dave, 35, to win the men’s doubles title. He came back a couple hours later to team up with daughter Michelle, 31, to take home the mixed doubles championship.
Sonny and Dave teamed up to defeat Amherst’s Forest Hampton, 40, and Elyria High senior Eli Thompson, 17, in three sets, 6-1, 1-6, 6-2.
The Dukemans were in a mire from the second set through the first game of third set when Hampton and Thompson won seven out of eight games. Somehow, the Dukemans managed to right their course.
The dramatic turn of events had Sonny in high spirits.
“They picked on the old man,” joked Sonny. “I don’t think we were as tired in the third set as we were the second. I think it was more mental. Their net play was very good in the second set. They were grabbing a lot of balls.
“Our returns were much better in the third set. Dave helped me to calm down and keep the ball in play. He said that whenever I have the chance, not to choke or anything.”
Hampton was a bit frustrated as the match slipped away.
“We should have won a couple of those service games in the third set,” said Hampton, a 1989 Elyria West graduate. “We had them down love-30 once and love-40 another time. I just wasn’t able to hit my serves hard any more and my slice wasn’t working well. We played well in the third set. We just couldn’t win those crucial points.”
Hampton took second in doubles at the LCCC event back in 1988 with Eli’s dad, Steve.
Sonny and Michelle swept Elyria’s Franco Gallo, 32, and Amanda Nielsen, 21, for the mixed doubles crown, 6-3, 6-0.
“We got into a lot of deuces, but couldn’t pull through,” said Nielsen, a 2008 Elyria High graduate. “Next year we’ll get them. It was very fun. It was all for a good time.”
The mixed doubles win was Michelle Dukeman’s second win of the tournament. Saturday, she defeated 2009 EC grad Becky Mittler, 6-2, 6-2, for her third straight women’s singles title.
“We got lucky on a few shots,” said Sonny. “We got our money’s worth. Well, Michelle’s money’s worth. She paid the entry fee.”
Michelle took nothing for granted.
“It’s always a challenge,” said Michelle. “It’s never easy with all the different styles that are out there.”
Gallo won the men’s singles title earlier in the day by defeating Amherst 22-year old Zack King, 6-0, 7-6 (7-2).
“Consistency was a key. My lob was working very well,” said Gallo, a 1997 Elyria High graduate and Elyria girls tennis coach from 2002-07. “I didn’t make many mistakes. I made a few more in the second set. He picked up something and I had to adjust.
“I didn’t play this tournament last year, but won the Elyria Parks and Recreation Tournament.”
Gallo is in his second year as principal at Clearview. He and his wife have three children ages 5 and younger.
“When I played in college for Cleveland State, I played for three hours a day every day,” said Gallo. “My lifestyle’s very different now, being a dad. July is still tennis month because I’m on vacation. You don’t lose it as long as you get back into it and hit the ball around. It’s a game of inches. The more you practice the more close shots you make.”
King played Gallo twice in the past and knew full well what to expect.
“He’s a very steady player,” said King, a 2011 Akron University graduate. “He’s tough. When Franco’s on you can’t beat him. You can pick up on his tendencies and push the play a little bit, (but) he had the key and lock. He figured it out pretty quick.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.