James Van Deinse Wins “King of the Hill” Title, Earns Mardy Fish Main Draw Doubles Wild Card With Christian Docter

Friday, February 23, 2024

James Van Deinse is establishing himself as probably the best tennis player in Vero Beach.

The 33-year-old teaching pro and co-owner of the Vero Beach Tennis & Fitness Club emerged victorious Thursday in the 29th annual “King of the Hill” tournament at The Boulevard tennis club, successfully winning the title among Treasure Coast area tennis pros.

Van Deinse swept all three sets played in doubles with each of the other three event finalists to finish with 18 total games won. Christian Docter, the teaching pro at the Sea Oaks Beach & Tennis Club, and long-time Vero Beach resident Robert Kowalczyk finished in a tie for second place with 13 games won while Vero Beach High School senior Mason Cisco finished in fourth place with 12 games won.

“I played some really good points in important moments, but I felt like a lot of the chips fell my way tonight,” said van Deinse after his victory. “We had some pivotal points really in every set. Every set was tight”

The victory for Van Deinse earned him a main draw doubles “wild card” entry into Vero Beach’s annual USTA Pro Circuit event, the $15,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships to be held April 22-28 at his home club, the Vero Beach Tennis & Fitness Club at Timber Ridge. The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation annually awards the “King of the Hill” winner and runner-up a spot in the doubles draw at this entry-level “minor league” professional tennis tournament played for ATP ranking points and prize money. Since Docter and Kowalczyk tied for second place, the 43-year-old Kowalczyk, a former college All-American at Cal-Berkeley who has played many pro events around the world in his career, forfeited the tie-breaking procedure to Docter to give the 27-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native a chance to play in a pro event for the first time in his career.

Said Docter of the opportunity to play in the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships, “Just to get into a pro event, it’s what every tennis player dreams of as a kid. When you start playing, you want to go pro, and now this is the first chance to actually play against these guys who are doing it for a living. So I’m very blessed, I’m very fortunate, and I can’t wait for this opportunity.”

Said Van Deinse, “It’s not only a dream come true to play in the Futures event here and it’s at my home club, but on top of all that to play with Christian Docter, we actually have trained together almost seven days a week. And so we’ve been planning this for a year to try to play some of our best tennis at the right time so we can play together in this event, and I’m just thrilled. And it’ll be his first Futures event.”

It will mark the third time that Van Deinse will play in the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships USTA Pro Circuit event. In 2017, when he first won “King of the Hill” title, he partnered with then Quail Valley Club pro Michael Alford but lost in the first round to Robert Galloway and Alexander Centenari. Galloway won the ATP Tour Delray Beach Open doubles title earlier this month and was a doubles quarterfinalist at the 2023 U.S. Open. Last year, partnering with KOTH runner-up Tyler Rios, he was defeated in the Mardy Fish first round to eventual champions Lorenzo Claverie of Italy and Peter Bertran of the Dominican Republic.

“I was a little bit unlucky that so far the two main draw doubles tournaments I’ve played in that tournament have been against guys who have gone on to do great things, but at the same time, it makes for a good story and it gives me experience,” said van Deinse. “So I’m hoping that if I get a good draw this tournament, I’ll have the experience from past years to be able to play some of my best tennis.”

The “King of the Hill” open division finals attracted a crowd of about 300 fans to The Boulevard. The event, run by Port St. Lucie teaching pro Gigi Casapu, annually benefits Youth Guidance of Vero Beach, the nonprofit organization serving children and young adults in Indian River County since 1973.

The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships has been held in Vero Beach since 1995 and for the last eight years under the management of the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation, the non-profit organization that benefits at-risk children in Indian River County and named for Vero Beach native son and 2004 Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish. Recent participants have included current world Top 20 players Tommy Paul, Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe.

WATCH the full interview with Van Deinse

WATCH the full interview with Docter

WATCH the full interview with Gigi Casapu here

Docter Van Deinse

Christian Docter (left) and James Van Deinse