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Finding family through tennis

Local title winners come from all over the world


At Carefree Racquet Club, tennis is an international affair.

Six of the top players who practice at the Merrick club recently captured a national title at the 2019 U.S. Tennis Association League National Championships, and only two are native to the Island. The others are from England, Venezuela, Ukraine and France.

“We’re from all over,” said Ben Marks, 29, a native of Malvern, England, who captained the team. Together they represented the United States’ Eastern Section in the USTA League’s gender-mixed, advanced-ranked championship for players over 18. The event brought the group, as well as Carefree employees and family, to Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.

“We said, ‘Let’s make a team and have fun with it,’” Marks said, “and we went further than we originally thought.”

Team members now live in the area, but the players originally came to the country because of their tennis skills. Marks received a scholarship to play at Old Dominion University in Virginia. After graduating from Norfolk State University in 2012, he moved to New York in 2015 and discovered Carefree.

“Everyone on the team became a family here,” said Alina Volman, 28, a native of Lugansk, Ukraine. “I don’t really have anyone else. Having no family here and being so far from away [from home] is kind of lonely.”

“We joke about it,” she added with a laugh, “how I’m an only child, but now it’s like I have brothers and sisters.”

Volman has a story similar to Marks’s: She received a full scholarship to attend college in Alabama in 2009, and although she pursued a business degree, playing tennis professionally was always her dream. “Tennis is kind of my life,” she said.

Luis Vivas, 27, of Caracas, Venezuela, moved north to play college tennis as well, and eventually joined the “family-oriented” racquet club with Marks and Volman. On the court, “You can see how close we are, and that plays a big factor,” Vivas said. “We’re all supporting friends.”

While preparing for the championships, he added, “We didn’t go there with the expectation to win, we just went there to enjoy it — because we were with a good group of people.”

The past year of practice at Carefree helped the team achieve a 10.0 ranking, the most advanced for a recreational championship’s doubles matches. After defeating a team from Dallas 2-1, the Merrick squad conquered another team from California’s Bay Area 3-0 on Nov. 11.

“The excitement was building as we were winning,” Marks said.

Back on the Island, the players also coach at Carefree — Marks also serves as the director of tennis. They each expressed joy about working with residents of all ages. “I wake up and I love going to work,” Volman said.

The Carefree coaches and players, including Loic Minery, of France, and locals Sarah Bowen and Samantha Perri, often reflect on “how we’re different, but not so different,” Volman said, referring to their far-reaching origins and shared love of tennis.

“Being with all of them — and winning — is incredible,” Volman said.