It’s a small world, and Marc Vecchiolla has proof of that.
Vecchiolla, the Director of Tennis Operations at Mercer County Park Commission, recently took a trip to Finland to celebrate a connection that dates back nearly three decades.
It all started in the late 1980s, when Vecchiolla was a student at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. Vecchiolla played on the tennis team as a student-athlete, later becoming an assistant coach after a season-ending injury. In his time there, he met friends Finns Jukka and Risto Tanninen.
Fast forward to 1999. Vecchiolla was serving as Director of Tennis at Mercer County Park when the park hosted the International Hardcourt Championships, bringing together the top 18-year-old players in the world. Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen was playing in the event, and the two got to talking.
It turned out that Vecchiolla’s old friend, Jukka, had traveled around Europe with Nieminen for years as the coach of the Finnish National Team. It was an unexpected connection from two people who lived thousands of miles apart.
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Nieminen went on to win that event as an unseeded player, then won the US Open Junior Championships two weeks later. He turned pro and finished in the top 100 for 15 straight years, reaching a career-high of No. 13 and reaching quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.
“I followed his results the way a person would follow a favorite sports team,” Vecchiolla said.
Nieminen went on a final tour this year, playing his last matches as a touring pro. Last month he hosted an event named “The Final Night” in Finland, which featured Roger Federer and several pro athletes from Finland. Vecchiolla was there to watch the final event, and celebrate afterward. Vecchiolla traveled with two of his former Mercer County Community College players, Ben Pinter and Jason Ciaccio. Both are also Nieminen fans.
“I was reunited with my ECU friends,” Vecchiolla said. “It was a great trip. Great times.”