Fair Lawn’s Red Army
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Fair Lawn’s Red Army

Just like in the real estate game, doubles tennis is all about location, location, location. Even a great singles player can get lost in the doubles game, since where you hit the ball matters more than how hard you can hit it, says Fair Lawn High School tennis player Lenny Goldenberg. Think of it as placement over power.

Then again, the Fair Lawn junior’s tennis career is a lesson in geography.

Seven of coach Matt Markman’s tennis players call themselves the "Red Army," since they are all Russian. They are also all Jewish, and they are all starters.

And they’re all pretty good.

"It is a nice thing that we’re all Russian, since we’re all alike in some way," said Goldenberg, who was born in America to Russian parents and grew up in Fair Lawn. "If we want to talk to each other privately when other people are around, we talk in Russian."

Fair Lawn’s recent tennis success, though, is no secret. At the season-ending Bergen County tournament, their first (best) and second singles players, as well as their second doubles team, got to the tournament’s quarterfinals. Meanwhile, their third singles player reached the semifinals. Goldenberg didn’t fare quite as well, as his first doubles team, which was seeded fourth in the tournament, lost to Ramapo in the second round.

Goldenberg was still encouraged by his progress.

"I felt that, compared to last year, I did a lot better," he said. "I improved a lot this year, and fortunately, so did my partner."

The "Red Army" — Goldenberg, Leo Garber, Leon Kapulsky, Freddie Rozenshteyn, Danny Khaylo, Eugene Mirsky and Mark Shapovalov — reflect tennis’ growing popularity in Russia. Long considered a country rich in hockey and poor in just about everything else, Russia is becoming a hotbed for well-trained tennis talent.

"If you watch the U.S. Open or the French Open which is going on now, a lot of young Russian girls are coming in at 16, 17 years old," said Goldenberg on Tuesday from Markman’s office. "Take Maria Sharapova, who came in to her first grand slam (Wimbledon ‘004) as an underdog and won. The training in Russia is just harder than it is here."

Goldenberg plans to attend a college where he can continue playing tennis. But he also has more academic things on his mind, like studying chemistry and business law, and finding a good job.

After all, placement is everything.

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