By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
JUSTIN Roberts, reeling in the catches from his new found fishing hobby, was excited to hear the International Tennis Federation's announcement last week that the ITF World Tennis Tour will resume on August 3 for ladies' events and August 17 for the men.
After a day on the lake in Keller, Texas, the Bahamas' top professional tennis player at 788 in singles by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and 416 by the ITF told The Tribune that he stepped up his training with his long-time doubles partner Jody Maginley from Antigua and American Evan Drew in anticipation of his return to the tennis courts. "The calendar is not official yet, but while we wait on it, we are just training, trying to get better," said the 6-foot, 0-inch Roberts, who is coming off four tournaments at the beginning of the year.
Right after those tournaments, the world of sports was shut down due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. But Roberts remained in Keller (just outside of Dallas) where he rode out the crisis instead of trying to come back home.
"I've been training hard, probably spending at least five-six hours on the court trying to improve on some things," Roberts pointed out. "I'm looking forward to getting back out there, so I'm more than ready."
The 23-year-old former home-schooled student, who graduated from the University of South Florida in 2018 before he transferred to Arizona State University as a graduate student where he reunited with coach Matt Hill, played his last tournament at the M25 Las Vegas on March 2, 2020.
He lost in the round of 32 in singles to American Spencer Papa 6-1, 6-3 and teamed up in the men's doubles with Maginley, a long-time touring partner from their junior campaign.
The Caribbean duo were not successful as they got eliminated in the round of 16 to the American pair of Hunter Johnson and Yates Johnson in identical scores of 6-4, 6-4. It was his third tournament for the year after he played in a pair in Cancun, Mexico, in February.
In the last tournament in Mexico, Roberts was beaten 6-4, 7-5 by Gilbert Klier Junior of Brazil in singles during the week of February 17.
Roberts and Maginley got to the semifinals in doubles, only to get knocked off by the team of Igor Marcondes of Brazil and Brandon Walkin in scores of 6-1. 6-3.
However, they posted wins over the pairs of Felippe Sarrasaque of Argentina and Kiranpal Pannu of Australia in the quarter-finals and Americans George Goldhoff and Alfredo Perez in the round of 16.
During the week of March 10 in Mexico, Robert got to the semifinals in singles where he was stopped 6-2, 6-3 by Maximiliano Estevez of Argentina after winning three consecutive matches over American Alexander Sarkissian 6-4, 6-2; Mexican Juan Alejandro Hernández 6-3, 7-6 (4) and American Joshua Ortlip 6-2, 7-6 (3).
In doubles, Roberts and Maginley didn't advance out of the round of 16 as they fell victim, this time to Goldhoff and Perez in identical scores of 6-3, 6-3.
As they began the tour of Mexico during the week of February 2, Roberts and Maginley reached the quarterfinals where they got ousted 6-7 (7), 7-6 (2), 15-13 by the Brazilian team of Mateus De Cavaiho Cardoso Alves and Igor Marcondes. They won their opener 7-6 (5), 6-4 over Eduardo Ribeiro and Fernando Yamacita also from Mexico.
Roberts didn't play singles in that opening tournament.
"I was feeling good. I played four events and made the semifinal, so I felt I was playing some good tennis," Roberts said. "I was looking to get on a roll there, but the coronavirus slowed it down.
"I am looking forward to the return of tennis. I think I have improved a lot, so I'm just looking forward to getting back out there when the time comes."
To help pass some of the time during the lockdown and curfews imposed in Texas as a result of Covid-19, Roberts said he hit a lot of tennis balls and watched movies.
Right in the midst of the pandemic, Roberts said he threw his support behind the 'Black Lives Matter' and "I Can't Breathe' campaign to protest the killing of African American George Floyd on May 25 in Minnesota by a white Policeman.
"I fully support it," said Roberts, who admitted that he opted to stay home and not to go out on any of the rallies or protest matches. "I think it affects people like me in America. It's hard that we have to go through it, but it's a beautiful thing seeing people standing up for their rights."
Although the ITF is currently finalizing a provisional calendar of ITF World Tennis Tour events from 3 August to 27 September, there was some protests from international players, who claim that they don't think that the US Open, scheduled for August 31 to September 13 in Flushing, New York, should be played in the aftermath of Covid-19 and the stance against black protests.
But Roberts said he believes that the ITF and the ATP is doing all they can to ensure that the sport continues and players get an opportunity to make some money in the process.
"They will lose out on a lot of players who don't feel safe traveling at this time, but I honestly have no clue," he stated. "I know players have to defend their points, so I'm prepared to go out there and play.
"I just don't know yet what tournaments will be available for me to play in."
In the meantime, Roberts said he was glad to get on the water on Saturday and participate in his fishing expedition.
"It wasn't bad. It was my first time fishing. I did a little bit of fishing when I was a little boy," Roberts said. "We went to the lake here and I caught a few fish. It was a fun time. I enjoyed it."
Roberts, who now intends to make fishing a part of his pastime activities off the court, said they used the catch of the day for their Father's Day meal on Sunday.
"I miss home, but this is where I have to be and where I have to take advantage of my time," said Roberts, the son of Bruno and Sonjia Roberts and the brother of Savannah Roberts, a female tennis player who is expected to enroll in Cornell University in August. "So I'm enjoying it."
As the top ranked Bahamian player on the tour, Roberts was automatically named to the Bahamas Davis Cup team along with Kevin Major Jr, Baker Newman and player/captain Marvin Rolle.
It's not certain if they will play this year, but Roberts said if they do, he will definitely be ready.
"I will put my best foot forward and make the Bahamian people proud," said Roberts, who previously represented the country at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China in 2014.
"I will just continue to represent the flag at the highest level and I think good things will come in the future."