July 10, 2003
by Corey Walton
In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Notre Dame men’s tennis head coach Bob Bayliss has traveled with his teams time and time again. None of those road trips, however, compared to the one Bayliss took this summer, when he led an Intercollegiate Tennis Association all-star team to Tokyo, Japan. The trip was to celebrate 100 years of intercollegiate tennis at Waseda University, which, according to Bayliss, is a comparable school to Notre Dame or Stanford.
Bayliss, along with women’s coach Ann Lebedoff of Pomona-Pitzer (Calif.) College and the team members were selected by the ITA Board of Directors to compete in Waseda’s Centennial Celebration June 14-15, taking on the host school’s men’s and women’s teams on Saturday before facing a Japanese collegiate all-star team to wrap up the weekend.
Bayliss’ first order of business, before a single point could be played, was to meet his team, which consisted of no one with which he had more than an acquaintance relationship previously.
“I flew to Los Angeles on Tuesday (June 10) and met with the team that evening,” Bayliss said. “We had a banquet, and then we took them into a private room and gave out our team uniforms. Then we got to know each other and after a while we headed off to bed.”
Having become slightly better acquainted with his team, it was time for Bayliss to board another plane and make the trans-oceanic flight to Japan.
“When we got up on Wednesday (June 11), we had breakfast at about 9:30 a.m., and then we were shuttled to the airport,” Bayliss said. “We flew to Tokyo on a 1:00 p.m. flight. I think the flight took somewhere around 13 or 14 hours. There’s a significant time difference — they’re something like 16 hours ahead of us — so we took off on Wednesday afternoon and landed in Tokyo at about 4:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon (June 12).”
Upon arriving in Tokyo, Bayliss and the team were greeted by Sakai Yoshii, a former Waseda University player, who also played collegiately at the University of Miami. Yoshii served as the team’s host for the duration of its visit to Japan.
From the airport, Yoshii took the team to the Hotel Okura, known as one of the finest in Japan, according to Bayliss.
“The hotel is situated right on Tokyo Bay, and in the morning I could watch the boats go in and out of the harbor. It was really neat,” he said.
Once everyone was settled in the hotel, there was no rest for Bayliss and the team because the Japanese had been eagerly awaiting their arrival.
“They gave us about an hour to clean up and throw some water on our faces, then they had us come down to dinner. The head of tennis in Japan, Waseda’s coach and several other Japanese dignitaries were in attendance,” Bayliss said.
On Friday morning (June 13), the team was taken to Ariake Tennis Stadium, a 10,000-seat venue with a retractable roof, for their designated practice time.
“When we got to the stadium, we had ten players and only one court. It was a great big court but it was still only one net. We had to do some innovative things to get people practice time until we could send some people to an open outdoor court,” Bayliss said.
Once the practice session ended, Bayliss was faced with what he called “the toughest part” of the trip — creating his team’s lineup.
“We had so many good players from all levels of college tennis, Division I through Junior College, that I had some tough choices to make. I wanted to give everyone a chance. We had to also do some creative things because they had scheduled mixed doubles and there isn’t any mixed doubles in college tennis. In addition, they decided to disallow in-match substituting, which is normally a feature of World Team Tennis.”
That afternoon, Yoshii and his wife had arranged a sight-seeing tour of Tokyo and the surrounding area. The team was taken to several historical landmarks in the city and given a tour of the Imperial Palace.
“It’s a great big city and there’s a lot to see, but we saw pretty much everything,” he said.
After a good night’s sleep on Friday, Bayliss awoke on Saturday morning eager to commence with the tennis-based part of the trip.
“After breakfast, everyone, including myself, was ready to get the first match underway,” Bayliss said.
That initial contest pitted Bayliss’ ITA-USA all-star team against host school Waseda University’s men’s and women’s squads. Scoring for the match was to be done in the same style as the World Team Tennis league, where the team score is the sum of games won in the seven matches played (two men’s singles, two women’s singles, one men’s doubles, one women’s doubles, and one mixed doubles).
“It’s an unusual way to keep score, but it keeps fans in the game longer. That’s one of the reasons why we kept score in that style. There was some concern that people wouldn’t understand the match as well with the traditional scoring,” Bayliss said.
Halfway through the first match, Bayliss found his team trailing the Waseda squad by five games. A feverish comeback ensued, and the ITA-USA all-stars captured a one-game lead heading into the final showdown.
Amer Delic, the NCAA men’s singles champion out of the University of Illinois (arch rival of Bayliss’ Irish), stepped onto the court for the day’s final match with a chance to lock up the victory for his team.
“It was a fantastic match. The level of tennis was very high, and Amer won enough games that we got the victory,” Bayliss said.
After the match, Bayliss and the team were taken back to the Hotel Okura to freshen up before being transported to one of Tokyo’s finer restaurants for a formal dinner. At the dinner, gifts were exchanged between the two teams.
“We gave them t-shirts that said ITA-USA all-star team,” Bayliss said. “From the Japanese, we received commemorative t-shirts. In addition, all the men received a really nice Waseda University silk tie, and everyone was given a commemorative piece of jewelry.”
At the end of a long day, Bayliss and the team only had a little time to rest up before Sunday morning brought about a match against the Japanese collegiate all-star team.
The scoring for this match was the traditional method of counting the number of matches a team wins. Against a level of competition higher than the previous day’s opponent, Bayliss’ team was down 3-1 with three matches to play.
“We had to win all three of the remaining matches, which we did. It was very exciting,” Bayliss said. “We were down 5-2 in the final match and we came back and won it in a tiebreaker. That match happened to be the mixed doubles.”
Following the match, there was another formal dinner at another of Tokyo’s finest restaurants and an exchange of gifts with the Japanese all-stars.
“At the dinner, we were each seated with a Japanese counterpart. I was seated across from the former Japanese national champion, who had played in Wimbledon and the French Open, and various other places. She doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Japanese, but we did our best to converse,” Bayliss said.
When the team awoke on Monday, they were taken into downtown Tokyo for a final meal at an authentic Japanese restaurant, where they were served sushi and other Japanese delicacies.
“I was able to eat some of it, but I took one for the team and passed around my raw fish,” Bayliss said.
After the meal, the team was taken to the airport to say their goodbyes and make the long flight back to their various destinations.
After taking some time to readjust himself to his normal schedule, Bayliss had some time to reflect on his experience.
“I came back with a totally different impression of life over there. Tokyo is a huge city, but it’s very clean and the people respect each other greatly, and it’s a very safe city.” As far as a non-tennis trip to Japan is concerned, Bayliss said he would be very receptive to the idea because he would like to experience the culture more thoroughly.
For Bob Bayliss and the ITA all-star team, their experiences in Japan were well worth one of the longest road trips of their careers.