Franklin Athletic Club teammates rush the court to congratulate Storm Kirschenbaum after his national championship- clinching victory.
Franklin Athletic Club teammates rush the court to congratulate Storm Kirschenbaum after his national championship- clinching victory. (United States Tennis Association)

It was the first time in at least 40 years that a team from the Midwest won the 3.5 age 40-and-older men’s national championship, and the first time since 2001 that any team from southeast Michigan won a USTA national team title.

Storm Kirschenbaum figured it out very quickly.

“As I was going into the tie-breaker of my match, I saw the looks on the faces of the guys on our team who had come over to watch,” he said. “I could tell they weren’t there to just enjoy watching the tie-breaker.”

Indeed they weren’t.

A United States Tennis Association national championship hung on the result of the tie-breaker.

Kirschenbaum came through.

He roared from behind to defeat his singles opponent from Austin, Texas, 6-1, 3-6, 10-8, rallying from an 8-5 deficit in the tie-breaker.

That gave the Franklin Athletic Club team a 3-1 win over Austin and the USTA national title in the 40-and-over men’s team division on a windy day in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

It was the first time in at least 40 years that a team from the Midwest won the 3.5 age 40-and-older men’s national championship, and the first time since 2001 that any team from southeast Michigan won a USTA national team title.

“We stormed the court after Storm won his match,” said Franklin team captain Ari Byer, at first not realizing his appropriate choice of words.

Storm Kirschenbaum wins his match and a national championship for his Franklin Athletic Club team.
Storm Kirschenbaum wins his match and a national championship for his Franklin Athletic Club team. United States Tennis Association

Later came an avalanche of congratulatory texts to Byer from the area tennis community.

“I’ll bet I got a thousand texts in 48 hours,” he said.

Kirschenbaum, 43, Byer, 47, and Steve Cohen, 60, were the three Jewish members of the Franklin team, whose 3.5 skill level is in the middle of the USTA’s 2.5 to 5.0 scale.

Kirschenbaum, a Birmingham resident, played singles, Byer played No. 2 doubles and Cohen played No. 1 doubles in the national championship match.

Cohen, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, also had a crucial victory against Austin.

He teamed with Jay Dalal to win 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 at No. 2 doubles, finishing the match just before Kirschenbaum went into his tie-breaker.

Kirschenbaum has an exceptional sports resume.

He was named the 1997 Jewish News Male High School Athlete of the Year after an outstanding baseball career at Birmingham Groves, and he was inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 for also being a Division I college baseball player and an excellent hockey player.

He places what happened in Oklahoma in October at the top of his athletic accomplishments pedestal.

“Winning that tennis match to clinch a national championship for my team was the most meaningful accomplishment I’ve ever had in sports,” he said.

“First, I don’t have much experience playing tennis. I’ve only played competitive tennis for four years. Plus, it’s more difficult to accomplish things athletically, and it’s such a mental grind to play at a high level when you get older.”

Kirschenbaum’s winning tie-breaker point came on a backhand shot down the line that his opponent could only return into the net.

That came after Kirchenbaum had some luck tying the tie-breaker 8-8. A shot that hit the frame of his racquet had so much spin on it that it kicked away from his opponent.

Franklin went 5-1 in the 16-team, three-day national tournament, going 3-1 in round-robin play and winning semifinal and championship matches.

Three of Franklin’s six matches ended in a 2-2 tie and went to a tie-breaker. Franklin won twice through the tie-breaker, including a victory over San Francisco in the semifinals.

Kirschenbaum said solid team chemistry played a major role in Franklin’s run to a national title.

Franklin won league, district, state and Midwest championships en route to the national tournament.

Franklin Athletic Club tennis team captain Ari Byer holds up his team’s national championship trophy.
Franklin Athletic Club tennis team captain Ari Byer holds up his team’s national championship trophy.

“A big reason for our good team chemistry was having a leader (Byer) who continuously pushed you to do your best,” Kirschenbaum said. “Ari did a phenomenal job.”

Byer, a Beverly Hills resident, praised his team. Eleven players went to the national tournament.

“I sent an email to the entire team before the season that said we had only goal: get to the national tournament,” he said. “Not one person complained then, or during the season, about not getting enough playing time.

“It was a great group. We had players from all over the area, from Chesterfield Township to Northville.” 

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