Ray Daumler, a three-time Manitoba Open men’s singles champion in the 1980’s, is still battling the top players in the province. And he’s still putting in the work on and off the court to improve his game.

Daumler has had a remarkable career in the junior, adult and senior ranks. He and his brother Norm got into the sport at an early age.

“My mom used to feed us balls,” Daumler remembered. “We grew up until about age six or seven in Elmwood and she used to toss some balls my way up the back lane, but the first tennis was really at age eight. I took beginner lessons at Sargent Park for a month or two – Rita Serbin and Rob Last (were the instructors).”

Daumler won the first tournament he played in, was ranked second in Canada for his age group by age 11, and won two rounds in the Orange Bowl world junior championships at 13.

“At the time there was a lot of North American travel,” said Daumler. “We (Manitoba players) travelled a lot into the northern United States. I was very successful there in multiple age groups and it was a lot of fun too. There was a big group of juniors so it was almost like a big family travelling around playing tournaments.”

As youngsters, Daumler and brother Norm worked full time in the summers and two nights a week in the winters at Crescent Creamery (their dad Fred was the manager there) to help support their tennis. Daumler worked at the business from the age of 11 until almost 18 before going to college in Winnipeg. He was into the property business by age 20.

Working his way up the tennis ladder, Daumler looked up to such players as George Kylar, Glen Ziprick, Archie Chawla and Bob Mitchell.

“I remember perfectly at Winnipeg Lawn, Ziprick playing Mitchell in a final and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, are these guys ever good,’” recalled Daumler. “It was good to watch and I think you need those things as motivating factors.”

In his last year of juniors, Daumler’s age group nationally included Andrew Sznajder (career-high ranking of No. 46 in the world in 1989), Grant Connell (No. 1 ranked doubles player in the world in 1993), Mark Greenan (former member of Canada’s Davis Cup team) and Chris Pridham (career-high of No. 75 in the world in 1988).

“There were some very solid players,” Daumler said. “I was lucky we had a pretty strong group, so whoever you were playing in the round of 16 makes you a better player and these guys had terrific skill and terrific training. I was very lucky to come through a time like that.”

Daumler’s Manitoba Open men’s singles titles came in 1986, ’87 and ’89. The tournament in those years was loaded with top talent from out of province.

“To me you want to try to get the greatest amount of competition,” said Daumler. “We used to get Americans. We had Saskatchewan champions coming, Alberta champions coming. You had a great pool and for me that has a great meaning – it’s so competitive and it raises everybody’s level.”

One tough loss at the Manitoba Open Daumler remembers well was his final against Alberta champion Steve Kirk. Daumler was unable to convert on three match points: on the first one he broke a string on a return of serve and on another his attempt at a passing shot down the line hit the tape and fell back on his side.

“I had some good wins,” Daumler said of his Manitoba Open success. “I had some really tough losses but those losses are what make you better as well.”

Daumler took nine years off from tennis in the 2000’s to spend more time with his kids.

“For two to three years of that nine-year period I couldn’t even look at tennis, I couldn’t visit a club, I couldn’t come watch a tournament,” Daumler remembered. “To state heartbroken is an understatement and you can’t actually believe it until you go away from such a thing.”

Daumler and his family got into martial arts during his time away from tennis.

“We took taekwondo,” said Daumler. “We have three of four family members as black belts for many, many years. We were teaching and the training is terrific.”

In his return to competitive tennis in 2010, Daumler won the men’s Open singles crown at a tournament at Sargent Park Tennis Garden and claimed the 45+ singles title at the western senior championships. He also placed second at the eastern seniors in his age category and was named to Canada’s world senior team.

“You come back from nine years and you’re again embraced by a sport – that’s a remarkable thing,” said Daumler, who adopted a one-handed backed when he returned to tennis due to a disc compression in his lower spine. “The kids were getting a little older and little more independent, so that gave me an opportunity to come back.”

Daumler is on court three to four times a week and works out on off-days, recently incorporating twice a week yoga into his routine.

“I have goals of playing further tournaments, potentially even the senior side,” Daumler said. “I’m interested in both the Open and the senior side.”