Ronald Agenor is 34 years old, ranked 259th on the ATP computer and coming off a two-year layoff, but he showed Jeff Tarango and an appreciative Newport Beach crowd that he can still play some pretty amazing tennis. Agenor defeated the always feisty Tarango, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), Sunday afternoon in the Battle of the Beaches tournament in front of about 800 at the Palisades Tennis Club.
Agenor also defeated Tarango in last year's final, but then he was still retired and ranked 790th.
"Last year I had no clue what to expect," said Agenor, whose highest career ranking is 22. "This year I had a clue. I've been playing my best tennis ever this week. I'm hoping by this time next year to be in the top 50."
Tarango, who is ranked 73rd, wasn't sure how to take the loss.
"I wish he was at his best," he said. "I beat him in the French Open [in 1993] when he was 24th in the world, in his hometown. But those were different circumstances than today. That was the French Open. This was a more relaxed atmosphere and he's out here hitting out, going for everything. I'm trying to defend some Southern California pride, which the fans out here don't seem to have."
Tarango, 29, grew up in Manhattan Beach, but he was not given much support in Newport Beach. On a few occasions, Tarango scolded the crowd for cheering his unforced errors. Meanwhile, Agenor seemed to feed off the emotion of the crowd. After finishing a big point with a well-struck ground stroke, Agenor would fall back, raise his arms and soak in the cheers.
Agenor, who retired at 31 because of burnout, said he is simply glad to be back on the court.
"I have a hygiene of life which I've never had before," said Agenor, who recently moved to Los Angeles from France. "I'm not smoking or drinking or eating poorly. Everybody around here is so into their body. It makes me want to be more health conscious. Everything comes from the gut now."
Agenor's comeback continues this week in Urbana, Ill., where he will play a Challenger, the minor leagues of the ATP Tour. From there, Agenor goes to Dallas, San Antonio, San Diego, Las Vegas and Burbank.
"My goal is to reach 120 [in the rankings] by the end of the year so I can qualify for the main draw of tournaments," he said. "I'm 34, playing satellites. Nobody has ever done that before."
Agenor will have some spending money for his trip. He collected $5,000 for winning the tournament. Tarango won $2,500 for his runner-up singles finish and split $2,000 with Jim Pugh for winning the doubles title. Tarango and Pugh beat Michael Joyce and Rikard Bergh, 6-1, 6-4.
The second Battle of the Beaches increased its attendance by 100% this year, tournament officials said. Tournament director Parry O'Keefe said he expects the event to return to Newport Beach next year, but not necessarily at the Palisades Tennis Club.