Wednesday—The Cream Rises

Inevitably, the team that I’m assigned to begins to tail off by midweek and, come Thursday, has little to no tail left. The 30th anniversary is not looking to break that streak, at the moment. With one round of doubles left to play, we are several points behind Roy Emerson’s Wankers, my team of last year (true to form, we finished fourth a year ago; in 2017, the Wankers are poised to win it all). I’ll let you know how that turns out in my next blog.

The Texas weather has remained remarkable. Thursday morning (as I write) even improved upon a near-perfect Wednesday, with a thin cloud cover more or less neutralizing the effect of a bright sun, and temps in the mid-seventies. Apparently, I need imperfect conditions to thrive.

John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Charlie Pasarell

War stories night—Newk moderating, Rocket and Charlie Pasarell thinking about what they’re going to say.

On Wednesday, I lost a somewhat interesting singles match to one of Newk’s Mongrel Kangaroos, a lanky (6-4) pharma executive from Granite Bay, California named Tony Jelinek. Tony was better than me in every facet of the game—forehand, backhand, serve, net play, foot speed. If I’d bothered to look in last year’s directory, I wouldn’t have even shown up, since it stated he’d been undefeated that year in both singles and doubles and had won the Kangaroos’ MVP award. Yet, somehow, I was up 4-1 in the first set, with the changeover complete and Tony holding the balls, ready to serve. And then Newk stepped onto our court and without glancing at me, walked slowly over to my opponent and began lecturing him. This went on for several minutes. Now I could have told Tony how to beat me in 20 seconds—slow down, don’t overhit, he hasn’t got one thing that can hurt you. Why it took Newk so long in beyond me. Given that I have yet to win a set—the coaches continue to imagine I’m a younger, stronger, more talented version of myself—I suppose this is flattering … of them and of Newk.

But on Wednesday night, before the annual Australian Boat Race began, I approached our host to remind him that, as a paying guest, he might have extended one courtesy. “Couldn’t you have waited until the end of the set?” I pleaded, somewhat pathetically in retrospect. “You know and I know I wasn’t going to win that match.”

“That’s right, mate,” Newk nodded. “But Tony didn’t know.”

The less said about the afternoon doubles, the better. Following it was brother Joe’s and my turns at the Legends clinic. I bailed, feeling a bit exhausted. But Joe went, and here’s his report on the Legends clinic:

“The sting of my having gone 0-2 in Wednesday’s doubles matches was alleviated somewhat by a pair of late-afternoon clinics with Charlie Pasarell (serve) and Fred Stolle (volley). It’s rather amazing—perhaps it shouldn’t be—that even little adjustments, when pointed out and practiced, can make a big difference in actual play. But they can and they did, at least for me the next morning when I played my best tennis so far this week. Working with both Emmo and Charlie on my serve this week has not made it all that much stronger per se, but my motion is much more consistent now, and I have managed to avoid the dreaded double-fault altogether. You can win a lot of serving games that way.

“On a personal note, I shared with Charlie my one and only visit to Wimbledon, in 1967, when I saw his historic first-round upset of defending champ Manuel Santana. The returning champ falling in the first round has only happened one time since, Charlie noted. Yet he shrugged as if the victory itself and its 50th anniversary were really no big deal. (Me, I would have the date tattooed on my forearm.) When I got to Stolle’s court, he looked at me and said, “I believe I played with you in a fantasy match last year.” Right, I said, surprised that he had remembered. “You were the best player on the court that day,” Fred continued, a wild exaggeration even by Aussie standards. Well, I said, suddenly emboldened, I believe you had had a few beers after lunch. Which, if you know these Aussies, was no exaggeration whatsoever.”

Wednesday night was the drinking contest, and Newk’s squad were so dominant that two members of the opposition never even got to chug. Preceding it, though, was another thoughtful discussion—the panelists were Emmo, Rod, Fred, Ross Case, and Charlie Pasarell, and the topic was stories from their early years as a pro. Emmo told his Onny Parun anecdote, the one where the New Zealand journeyman had to pay with a cork in his mouth, tied to a button on his shirt, to keep his neck from stretching. I’ve heard it eight times now (twice in Switzerland) and it never gets old. Case told the story of how he got his nickname Snake, which involves the early-days’ tradition of private housing, the hostess he found himself with at one tourney, and … well, you can guess the rest. And before all this, Doc Eden told some more jokes.

It’s already late in the day on Thursday, but I’ll save today’s activities for the next blog. Suffice to say, in the last possible competition, in the last possible moment, on the last possible point … I won a set.

Next: A Reprieve at the End

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E.J. Kahn III
E.J. Kahn III
E.J. Kahn III—known to most as Terry—is an author, journalist, and, most recently, communications consultant. He has written Net Results with psychologist Jim Loehr, a book focused on junior tennis parenting and coaching, and co-authored the award-winning autobiography of New York police officer Steven MacDonald. As a consultant, he has worked in Washington and New York with—among others—the Postal Service, Colgate-Palmolive, the State Department, and the City of New York. He lives with his wife Lesley in Manhattan, and plays most of his tennis at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, where he sits on the Board of Governors. A former college lacrosse player, he first competed in USTA tournaments in 2009, when he was ranked 10th in the East and 67th nationally in the Men's 60s.

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