Some of New York City’s premier celebrity chefs stepped out of the kitchen and onto the tennis courts of City View Racquet Club in Long Island City for a day of tennis, food and an overall good time.
Put on by AYS Sports Marketing as a part of the Taste of Tennis Week, the Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge featured a round-robin doubles tournament with the players rotating partners. Beyond the tennis, a multitude of sponsors were out serving food and drinks to all in attendance.
“This is our first year at City View, we’ve been friends with them a long time, so it’s great to bring it here to such a dynamic club with a beautiful view of Manhattan,” said Penny Lerner, CEO of AYS World. “The caliber of chefs this year is unbelievable; we’ve got Francois Payard, Marc Murphy, Jonathan Waxman, Kerry Heffernan. Plus Michelle Yu of SNY and Mayor Dinkins came out. Life couldn’t be better for tennis in New York City. This is a great moment.”
After the round-robin action, the finals were set. Defending champion Christian Pappanicholas paired up with Long Island Tennis Magazine Challenge winner Lisa Goldstein and took on the chef tandem of Jeff Lefcourt & Juan Santa Maria.
The championship match was played in a four-game format, with a fifth game being played if the score was 2-2 after the four games.
Pappanicholas opened up on serve, and began the match with an excellent serve for a 15-0 lead. The two teams would exchange points until the first game went to 40-40. After a long rally, an excellent drop shot from Goldstein gave her and Pappanicholas a 1-0 advantage.
Santa Maria would serve in the second game and won four straight points, finishing it off with a forehand winner to even the match at 1-1.
Despite the first two games going the way of the serving team, the style of the match changed heading into the third game. The returning teams picked up their aggressiveness, and it showed as Goldstein fell behind 0-40 on serve. After saving one game point, another forehand winner from Santa Maria gave his team the break point for a 2-1 lead.
Lefcourt had a chance to serve for the match, but Pappanicholas & Goldstein dug deep. At 15-40, Pappanicholas hit a winner in between Lefcourt & Santa Maria to nail down a break of their own and force the match into a deciding fifth-game.
The teams flipped a racquet to decide who would be serving in the game, and Santa Maria & Lefcourt won the advantage. Santa Maria was chosen to serve, and quickly built a 15-0 lead after a Poppanicholas backhand sailed long. The two teams would exchange points until it got to 40-30 when, after a long rally, Goldstein hit another one of her patented drop shots to even the game at 40-40, meaning the championship would be decided by a single point.
On the championship point, Santa Maria hit a backhand into the net, giving Pappanicholas & Goldstein the title.
“I took a spill on a mountain bike, so I’m coming back from a bad shoulder injury, so I knew I wouldn’t be serving as hard,” Pappanicholas said on adjustments he made from last year. “I just had to volley better and play within myself. This is one of the best events ever and I’m so grateful just to be a part of it.”
Goldstein, who captured the title in the Women’s Amateur Division at the Long Island Tennis Magazine Challenge earlier this summer, said this type of tournament was a little different than the ones she normally plays.
“I really didn’t know anyone’s game here, so I had to adjust coming in,” said Goldstein. “There are such different levels of players here, you can team up with a really good player or you can team up with somebody who has never been on the court before. And I got a really good partner!”
The pair walked away with a ton of prizes, including a three-day trip to Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Fla.
Goldstein was joined at the event by fellow Long Island Tennis Challenge winners Jodi Schwartz, Jill Friedman and Simone Crames.
“It’s such a great way to combine food and tennis!,” said Schwartz.
Larry Hong, co-owner and managing partner of City View Racquet Club, said he was extremely pleased with how the event turned out.
“It’s pretty exciting, it’s a unique experience, it’s not very often we get some of the top chefs in New York, let alone the world,” said Hong. “They’re all having a good time, competing in a family-oriented fun experience. This definitely has all the elements and potential for a charity element moving forward.”
The money raised at the event went towards City Harvest, as well as towards the recovery of Eli Kulp, a promising New York City chef who was paralyzed in May’s deadly Amtrak train crash.
Chef Kerry Heffernan spoke of the good that an event like this can bring.
“We’re just so lucky to be able to do what we love and have fun doing it. This year we are able to really help this unfortunate chef,” Heffernan said. “So for us to be able to play tennis, raise some money and help someone in dire need is a great thing.”
Credit all photos to Sidney Beal III, Clique Photography