PRINCETON: Cryan celebrates 50 years of success

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
Jim Cryan didn’t have much time to get to know his father, but playing in and then helping to organize the James E. Cryan Memorial Tennis Tournament helped catch him up.
“It was one of the opportunities where I’d get to hear about my father,” said Cryan, who lives in Princeton. “His friends played for some years. It was one of the places I would get to hear about him.
“They were all nice to me. They spent a lot of time teaching me tennis and telling me about him. They’re a good group.”
Cryan was only 6 years old when his father died of Hodgkins Disease in 1964. Since 1965 — except for one year off — the James E. Cryan Memorial Tournament has been held in Mercer County. The tournament finished its 50th year on Saturday at Mercer County Park.
“It’s very nice that it’s been going on that long,” Cryan said. “I don’t know if my father or his friends that put it together expected it to be a big event.”
Cryan is co-director along with Virginia Armstrong-Whyte. He got his start playing in the tennis tournament that bears his father’s name as soon as he could.
“Maybe when I was 10,” said the now 57-year-old Cryan. “It was always fun. It died down a bit in the ‘70s. Mercer Park was fading out. It moved to Kuser Park one year. It didn’t have it one year.”
In addition to being director, Cryan entered the tournament again as a player this year. He teamed with Allison Noll in the open mixed doubles. They beat Belle Mead’s Jill Pancha and Nikil Pancha in the first round before falling to second-seeded Tyne Miller and Tremayne Mitchell, both of Pennsylvania, in the second round. He and Robert Vance opened the men’s open doubles bracket with a round of 32 win over William Birnie and Stan Celia last Tuesday before falling in the round of 16 to Dylan Karchere-Sun and Eric Tai. Getting to play in the tournament has always been a highlight.
“I can definitely remember playing in it when I was young,” Cryan said. “I think I was 10. I played with one of my father’s friend’s sons, who was one of the better players in the Middle States. I would serve it then get out of the way and let him play. I can remember I was pretty young.”
Cryan is part of one of the biggest fields ever for his father’s tournament. There were 387 players this year in the tournament.
“It goes up and down,” Cryan said. “That may be the most, and if it’s not the most, it’s close to the most. In the time I’ve been doing it, it’s been somewhere around 300. This is pretty many more. I’m not sure how many more we can safely accommodate. If we get a little rain, it’ll become a problem if it’s more than this.”
The overwhelming numbers are something that would have thrilled Cryan’s father. He and his friends were tennis enthusiasts and loved to spread their passion for the sport.
“They were getting things done in the area for tennis,” Cryan said. “They were fanatics. They loved tennis, but the way I saw it was they loved the community of it.”
The Cryan tournament has been a consistent part of the tennis community. It brings together the local players and some players who come a little farther.
“When we started adding prize money, we got some new people,” Cryan said. “Young Min Kwon. He was No. 1 in Middle States and he’d play every year. They upped prize money about 20 years ago. They get some really strong players who happen to be in the area and play. We always seem to get good players. It’s well known in the larger tennis community from Philadelphia to New York. The No. 1 seed this year is from Philadelphia and the No. 2 lives in New York.”
There is also plenty of local flavor to the tournament. Homegrown players who grew up on MCP’s courts come out for the Cryan along with fans from the area.
“It’s a pleasure to be there,” Cryan said. “You see people you might not see during the year. It’s a lot of people hanging around the park.”
Someone that the Cryan tournament can count on being there again is Jay Kanetkar. The North Brunswick resident played in his 34th straight Cryan tournament. He won his men’s open singles opener over Yuexing Hu. Kanetkar was honored with the James E. Cryan Achievement Award, one of two awards along with a sportsmanship award that the tournament presents.
“He’s a good recipient of that James E. Cryan Achievement Award,” Cryan said of Kanetkar. “There’s a person that loves tennis. He’s a very good senior player. He was a good junior player. He was a good college player. That’s also the kind of group that my father’s friends were. I used to see them in ‘Tennis Magazine’ playing in 70 and over, and 80 and over, through hip replacements and knee replacements.”
Cryan, too, has been around the tournament a lot. It hasn’t always been easy with changing is residency through the years.
“I definitely didn’t make it back every year,” Cryan said. “I’d say I lived out of the area for 15 of the years. Sometimes I’d try to make it back. Sometimes I’d take a week off and come back around. It’s important to me. I think it’s really important to the tennis community. We send out emails and a lot of people, they schedule around it. It’s around time they take vacations. They try to schedule around it. Most of the people are from right around here.”
Cryan has played in it plenty through the years. More recently, he has served as co-director.
“I’ve been co-director for about 12-13 years,” he said. “It’s a long time. I’ve moved in and out of the area for years. When I’ve been here, I’ve always participated or played. I visited when I could. I talked to people about it when I was away.”
Cryan helps to get the tournament organized each year. He’s been around to know what it needs.“
We think about it during the year,” he said. “We have little things we do during the year. We have to get trophies, balls, shirts, the county puts the court time aside and gives us the tennis center the entire week. Marc Vecchiolla, who runs the tennis center, does a great job.
“We have volunteers come in and do the seeding and they do some research. It’s got an open A and B. It takes a bunch of people around to figure it out. They do a really good job — it’s hard to compare a high school kid with a guy who’s 35 and playing a lot of tennis. That’s part of the fun of it — seeing a 4-foot kid playing a 6-foot-3 guy, or a 40-year-old playing a 12-year-old. There’s pressure on both of them. You don’t see those at a lot of tournaments. Those are some of the most fun to watch.”
The Cryan tournament brings out a wide collection of talent and levels, but they all share a love of tennis. Over 50 years, it has become a staple on the tennis circuit in the local area and a little beyond. It’s something that shows no signs of slowing down.
“I would imagine it would continue to go on for another 50 years,” Cryan said. “I can’t see any reason why not. We have everything here. There’s a pretty vibrant tennis community in Mercer County. We have a great tennis facility. I’ve traveled all over the country, and I rarely see a county park that looks that nice. We have everything.”
The Cryan tournament has the track record, and a huge turnout this year helped to celebrate 50 years of tennis.
“This is exactly what my father and his friends had in mind,” Cryan said. “They would travel to these places to play. They wanted something here.” 