• Kennedy returns to Leavenworth tourney

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Capt. Rob Kennedy, a Command and General Staff Officer Course student, first picked up a tennis racket when he was 14 years old and now, more than 20 years later, he participated in his 17th City of Leavenworth Labor Day Tennis Tournament Sept. 1-2 at David Brewer Park.
    “Something about (tennis) just felt right. Hitting the ball felt really good and moving around the court, it was something I was really good at because I have really short, quick strides. It was a natural fit for me,” Kennedy said.
    “George Morton and Jim Mathis (tournament organizers) saw me as a young, interested player with a little bit of potential, and I really learned most of the game out here, playing weekend doubles with some older men.”
    While informally mentored by Morton and Mathis, Kennedy played tennis at Leavenworth High School. During his sophomore year at LHS, he met fellow tennis player Jesse Sherer, who at the time was a collegiate tennis player at Washburn University, through summer tennis clinics in Leavenworth.
    “He was the guy I was gunning for,” Kennedy said. “He kind of set a standard of where I needed to get to.”
    After high school, Kennedy went on to play tennis for one year at Bethel College and three years at Baker University, where he served as assistant coach for one year after his graduation. He started competing in the Leavenworth tournament in 1994 and has since taken home three championship titles and took second twice.
    In round one of the tournament, Kennedy defeated Spyridon Kaperonis, a Greek student at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, Mo., 6-1 and 6-3 after nearly three hours of play.
    “That’s why you don’t want to play Robby right there. You can beat him one on one, but it might take three hours. It’s never going to be easy,” Sherer said.
    “He is a very smart tennis player. What he lacks in size and physical weapons he makes up with his brain. He uses every weapon that he has to the best of his ability, and his movement and fitness are good, and he’s got a really strong backhand.
    “He’ll beat you if you’re not playing well,” Sherer said. “He’s just going to make balls. I don’t know that Robby has ever given away a match. If you beat Robby, you beat him. He will not make errors; he won’t make mistakes.”
    Anil Patel, a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who defeated Kennedy in the 2015 tournament, agreed.
    “I see him always putting full effort,” Patel said. “It almost matches his military way. It’s just very disciplined, very controlled and that’s obviously good competiveness.”
    Page 2 of 3 - In round two of the tournament, Kennedy was defeated by current UMKC student Hunter Clark, 6-2 and 6-3, but Kennedy said he was still proud.
    “It feels good to still be able to compete with these guys,” Kennedy said. “The quality of players that come through this tournament is extremely high. These international guys, they’re here to play high-level college tennis, and it’s a big compliment to this tournament that they come out and use this as a way to prepare for their season.”
    Kennedy said his toughest match by far over the years was against José Mota of Portugal, whom he defeated in the finals in 2004.
    “(Mota) was a Baker player like me, and he was a nationally ranked singles player while he was at Baker,” Kennedy said. “We played in a war of attrition out here. It lasted about four hours and was 100 degrees. That was probably the toughest singles match I ever played.”
    Kennedy said he loves the individuality of tennis.
    “You solely win and lose on your own,” he said. “You can’t pass the ball to anyone if you’re nervous; you can’t sit down if you’re tired. The challenge is solely yours to overcome or not to. There’s something terrifying about that and there’s also something very rewarding.”
    Kennedy said it takes a certain personality to succeed in tennis.
    “You have got to take a lot of joy in practicing alone. Find a wall and try to enjoy that solitary practice,” Kennedy said. “There’s not a good tennis player out there who only attended clinics or only took lessons.
    “You really have to take the technical advice you get and just grind out by yourself serving baskets of balls or hitting against the wall. That’s really the only way to get better,” he said. “You have got to be a little bit maniacal about it, just like the guy at the driving range under the lights at 10 p.m. working on his approach shot at the golf course. It’s the same thing.”
    Kennedy consistently participated in the tournament from 1994 to 2006 until he attended ROTC at Kansas State University and commissioned into the Army in 2008.
    “The Army has done well in keeping me fit,” Kennedy said. “It’s a great setup for me this year (with CGSOC) because there’re multiple areas I can go and get some tennis in if I want to. It’s a good stress relief and it breaks up the monotony of (physical training). It’s an outstanding sport.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Since 2008, Kennedy has tried to compete in the tournament as often as he can.
    “I want to support the tennis community here,” he said. “Mr. Mathis has been putting this thing on for almost 50 years. Any way that I can support it and represent Leavenworth against some of these players who come from out of town, it gives me a lot of pride to do that.”
    Kennedy also played doubles in the tournament with Sherer’s son Alex. They were defeated in the first round. Other Fort Leavenworth players in the tournament included Melinda McConnell, MacArthur Elementary School nurse, and Spc. Jim Edinger, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
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