BY MIKE MEANEY
The landscape is rugged, the people live off the land, the weather is not ideal, and access to competition is something that is a challenge for every athlete with potential from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The odds are stacked against our athletes. In 1995, Batman Forever was the top movie, and our tiny province scripted its special scene with our only national singles champion in the sport. Mark Parsons lifted the title in Repentigny, Quebec.
“I remember you running onto the court Mike, and hugging me. It was one of the special moments in my tennis career. I loved that you did that,” explained Parsons from his home in Weston, Connecticut.
Parsons played for Canada on the national Under 14 team and later the World Youth Cup team in Under 16, where our province had two representatives on the 6-member team.
“It was my first real international exposure, and it all went from there” he said. “I had never heard of a long term plan and then we were talking about me going to the Orange Bowl, Junior Wimbledon. This was a pipedream for someone from NL, but confidence came from seeing others from NL get to nationals and excel,” he said.
Playing for the National team as a professional athlete is quite an accomplishment, regardless of geography. But, making the Davis Cup National Team was unheard of before 2001.
“I came back to my girlfriend’s apartment and my phone rang, and I was a bit stunned and after hanging up, I said to Dana (who became his wife) I think I was just asked to play Davis Cup for Canada,” he said.
This was a culmination of time spent honing his craft all over the World. As a coach of his I remember when his Dad, Ken Parsons brought him to the Mt. Pearl Tennis Club at 6-years old. It was evident the kid was going places in the sport of tennis. I was a young teenage player then when I laid eyes on him, little did I know 10 years later in 1995 I would be his coach as he claimed the only National Junior singles title for this province, and it is still the lone national title. The province has had several players win national doubles titles.
The experience of playing for his country is something he will never forget. Frederic Niemeyer, Simon LaRose who are veterans of Canadian tennis were also team members. We all remember Bianca Andrescu winning her US Open grand slam title in 2019, well her future coach Sylvain Bruneau along with Denis Shapovolov’s former coach Martin Laurendeau were leading the team in Mexico City in the tie versus Mexico, which Canada won on the red clay.
“It was a special moment for sure, and we weren’t supposed to win down there,” he said. The team went for practice, and Parsons typically strung his racquets very high compared to most players. “We were practicing and I broke like six racquets in a half hour, and only then did I learn in that altitude this wasn’t going to work,” he chuckled.
Parsons played some pro ITF Futures events after that, but realized being on tour 46 weeks per year and no guarantee of making enough money for a living and getting his ATP ranking to a respectable level that he had to reevaluate his tennis career.” It was a good opportunity for me to return to Tennessee and do my Masters in Business and Sport/Recreation,” he said. Looking back on it, it appears it was a good decision. Parsons, a former All-American in singles in 1999 is leading a team of tennis professionals at the Aspetuck Valley Country Club in Connecticut, and reside with his wife and former NCAA womens player Dana, and they have two kids, Maddox 13 and Mckenzie, who will be turning 12 this year.
The culture of tennis for Newfoundland and Labrador is strong for an Island population that is aging and struggling on the economic ladder in Canada. If Mark Parsons can achieve this, so can others.
By Mike Meaney, Tennis Director, Newfoundland & Labrador Tennis Association
Tennis NL is a Contributing Partner of ONcourt