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Jeff Tarango was a steady fixture in the Top 100 during the 1990s as well as an accomplished doubles player, climbing as high as No. 10 in the world in doubles. He reached the third round in all four Grand Slams in singles, peaking at No. 42 in 1992, and was the doubles runner-up at Roland Garros in 1999 with partner Goran Ivanisivec.
Now, 10 years after he last competed in the US Open in singles—and seven years since he last competed in doubles—Tarango is taking one more run at Flushing Meadows by playing in the Southern California Section Qualifying Tournament of the US Open National Playoffs.
“I think it’s tennis’ answer to Tin Cup,” Tarango says of the National Playoffs, referring to the Kevin Costner movie about a club pro who nearly wins golf’s U.S. Open. “It’s the U.S.’s effort to keep something open for that diamond in the rough. That’s what America is all about, and having kids believe they have a chance no matter what the odds are, I think it’s really great and a really fun way to promote the game.”
Tarango’s road at the 2010 US Open begins May 17-21 in the Southern California sectional qualifier held at The Claremont Club in Claremont, Calif. The winners of the 16 sectional qualifiers held nationwide advance to the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s and Women’s Championships, which will be held this summer at the same venue as the Olympus US Open Series events in Atlanta (for the men) and Stanford, Calif. (for the women). A victory there earns a wild card into the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament held August 24-27 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“I don’t expect to win the qualifying [tournament], but I do think participation can really help the event,” says Tarango, a resident of Manhattan Beach in Southern California. “I’ve been getting in shape and playing a lot lately, so for me it’s always a barometer of how guys are playing right now. And I want to be coaching and I want to be helping out the Americans on the tour, so how else can I see why or why aren’t they making it than to play against them?”
Tarango’s tennis background extends beyond his success in the Grand Slams. As a collegian, he led Stanford University to two NCAA team titles as the No. 1 singles and doubles player. He turned pro after his junior year as the No. 1-ranked amateur on the ATP Tour, winning two ATP singles titles and 14 doubles titles in his 15 years on tour and advancing to the second round in singles at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Now 41, Tarango has hardly stayed idle since retiring in 2003. In 2008 he played doubles with two young Americans he had been tutoring—Ryan Thacher and Edward Kelly—winning the doubles title with Kelly at a Futures event on the USTA Pro Circuit. He also won two rounds in qualifying in singles at the same Futures event, won a round in qualifying at last year’s Olympus US Open Series event in Indianapolis and, in 2009, won the USTA National Men’s 40 Doubles and Mixed 40 Hard Court Championships.
Off the court, Tarango is the Vice Chair of the USTA’s Olympic Committee, the USTA representative to the United States Olympic Committee and a member of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup Committee. He has also served as a coach and as a broadcaster for the BBC, Tennis Channel, ESPN, DirecTV and others, and works with the tennis philanthropic organization Legendary Sports Group to raise money for children’s hospitals across the country.
“I love tennis, it’s what I’ve always done,” he says. “It’s nice to win, don’t get me wrong, but I just love getting out there and competing and staying involved in the sport. And qualifying could be a really fun way to do that. I mean, you win 12 matches and there you are in The Show. A lot of people might just put it on their calendar because they think, hey, this could be my year to qualify for the US Open.
“I mean, it’s terrific—how could I not support it?”