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Local Tennis Pro Heads To Israel

Three years on the sidelines with a bad hip and two surgeries later, 65-year-old Bob Litwin, one of the North Shore’s most accomplished tennis players, is ready to lead the United States Grand Masters Team as its player/coach in the 19th World Maccabiah Games in Israel in July.

Litwin, a member of the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame, has won the International Tennis Federation World Championship, 14 United States Tennis Association National titles from 1991 to 2007 and was ranked first in the over 55 years old bracket in 2005. He grew up in Great Neck, starring at Great Neck South High in tennis and basketball and lived in Port Washington for 23 years before moving to Glenwood Landing to develop his Focus Institute.

He’s returning to the Israeli tournament for the first time in 30 years. “When I was 35 that year I won the gold medal in doubles and the bronze medal in singles,“ he recalled. “I’m back to playing at the same level as before,” he said, referring to his hip difficulties. “I feel that I’m just a few points away from being ranked the No. 1 player in the country in the 65 and over.” Litwin is also waiting word as to whether he’ll be named to this year’s Senior Davis Cup Team that will play in Czechoslovakia. He’s been on the team eight times previously.

Maccabi USA, an organization that supports Jewish athletes throughout the country, selected Litwin as coach for the team, which has over 20 players, all aged 65 years or older. Litwin is clear about his mission at the Games. “I have two goals,” he said. “One is for me to go back there and win a gold in the singles. The other is to take these players, many of who are not tournament players, and share with them what the competitive experience really is, and to hopefully have some of them win medals. It’s going to be an unbelievable lifetime experience for them if they can win a medal.”

Litwin became disinterested in playing tennis when he first entered the University of Michigan. “Basketball was what I wanted to play,” he explained. After graduation Litwin began teaching history in a private school in Manhattan. “When the school needed a tennis coach, they drafted me. During the summer I started teaching tennis. And I made a career out of it. I ended up teaching tennis for 35 years.”

“I didn’t start playing competitive tennis again until I was 32 and living in Port Washington,” he continued. “That’s where I began to develop.”  Litwin was the first director of tennis for the Village Club of Sands Point and was a consultant to the Port Washington Yacht Club when it began to develop its tennis program.

Litwin then began to design a program for weekend athletes and business people he called “Focus,” concentrating on the mental side of the game. His competitive spirit returned as he began to enter tournaments to as he says, “Experience what my students were experiencing, so that I could help them better.”

“People were starting to improve by learning mental skills - whether they were relaxation skills, focusing skills, breathing skills, perspective, etc.,” he continued. “Then people in business said, ‘this is just what we need in the workplace. I need this in my office.’”