A Day of Magical Thinking

Joe Lipsick is one of America’s preeminent academic researchers. At Stanford University, where he is a professor of pathology and genetics, his Lipsick Laboratory conducts cutting-edge studies of “the structure and function of chromosomes and chromatin in metazoans”. How exactly that connects to tennis, I’m not really clear. But, to me, he is a court god who walks among us. Why? Well, because this afternoon he told me, “I came to the Legends Week because of your blog.”

Joe Lipsick at Newk's Tennis Fantasies

Professor Joe Lipsick, thanking www.tennisresortsonline for letting him live his dream

I found this out because Joe wound up with my 2011 doubles partner Rich Flisher this week. They’re doing pretty well—undefeated going into the Thursday matches—and the three of us found ourselves chatting in the morning, following singles play. He’d been told about the Legends by Stanford women’s coach Kathy Rinaldi, and his follow-up investigation took him to www.tennisresortsonline.com. “When I read about your experience, I thought it sounds perfect for someone like me. And I wasn’t wrong.” He laughed, and said, “You know what I heard on the court today. ‘Serve the effing ball, sh–bird!’” That probably wouldn’t play as well in Palo Alto.

In fact, the entire day was serendipitous for me. More good weather, featuring a bright sun and temperatures drifting into the upper 80s. And, given that we weren’t playing Newk, I was allowed to go on the clay. My opponent, English attorney Howard Rogg, was even close to me in age (a couple of years older, in fact) and we had a lovely time. At least I did, prevailing 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was closer than the final score.

Marty Judge

Marty Judge, thinking about line calls

Before the match began, at breakfast, teammate Marty Judge and I reflected a bit on line-calling and how a bad call or boorish behavior gets in your head. One of the pure pleasures of this week is the casual conversation over a meal or a drink with people you’ve just met, or only see once a year. They’re invariably interesting, informed, and thoughtful. Marty had recently played the men’s 60s singles at the National Grasscourt Championships at my home club, the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills, and while he hadn’t experienced any brutal calls there, he could remember tough calls from years earlier in USTA leagues. We spent 20 minutes thinking about “hose jobs.” It was as if he was prescient. A couple of hours later, after his morning match, he was fuming. He’d had five questionable calls he could specifically recall, including when they happened, where they landed, and how he reacted. “A match like that,” he said, “can ruin your week.”

The rest of the day, however, made mine. Our Dunnies team led Roy Emerson’s Wankers by one point at the mid-day break, and coach Stolle noted that we were 4-0 in supertiebreakers, we’d had two stirring comebacks, and that our afternoon doubles would make the difference.

A few hours later, the difference was made. We’d beaten Emmo’s team by three, and my partner Greg and I had taken out the experienced team of Jim Baumgarten and Bill, coming from behind in the first set, to win 7-5, 6-3. We’d even overcome the daunting moment—right before the first point—when Roy Emerson sauntered onto the court to tell my opponents how to beat me. “Really?” I said as he strolled past me, grinning, “Can you do this in a minute? It shouldn’t take any longer than that.”

Murphy Jensen, Terry Kahn, Brian Gottfried

Murph Jensen, threatening blogger Kahn, while Brian Gottfried revels in the glory of victory

To his credit, he threw me a complement later that evening. As did my Fantasy Doubles partner Brian Gottfreid, the great American all-arounder, a David Cup regular, who carried us to a 7-6 win over Murph Jensen and camper Rob Delman, a strong player in his own right. “My first win in six sets against Jensen,” Gottfried said. Murph just grimaced and tried to strangle me. Then he beat Brian again in the next set.

As evening wound down, Newk and Owen Davidson reminisced about the greatness of Rod Laver, both asserting he was—without a doubt—the best player ever. And then it was time for the Australian Boat Race, a chug-a-lug contest that included my doubles partner, the rocket scientist, and my nemesis, Rory Springfield, wearing his Giants shirt. No one seemed to be having a better week than Rory. So no surprise his team won.

Winning team, Australian Boat Race, at Newk's Tennis Fantasies

The Australian Boat Race winners: stay classy, guys

I was happy to share the magic.

Bizarro MVP >>

About 

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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One thought on “A Day of Magical Thinking

  1. Joe Lipsick

    Terry,
    I’m back home from old San Antone reflecting on a great week. I thought I’d compare notes with your article about your own experience as a rookie last year. To my amazement, you’ve already posted a wonderful piece about this year’s 25th anniversary edition, including my own ugly (but happy) mug. If I had to sum up my experience in a single word, it would be “magical”. Coming in, I was a bit concerned that I would feel like Margaret Mead– observing a close-knit fraternity that I might admire, but to which I might never really belong. However, I can’t thank everyone (and I really do mean everyone) for being so truly warm and welcoming. I’m a strong believer in the Herm Edwards Theory of Competitive Sport — “You play to win the game!” [http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/09000d5d82023348/Pick-Six-Meltdowns-Herm-Edwards]. Therefore, it was rather surprising that my best day at camp in some ways was the only day on which I lost two matches.

    Having dominated my singles match on Wednesday (“It’s a blood bath out here!”, crowed Murphy Jensen, one of our team’s coaches), then won a second straight doubles match with my partner Rich in the afternoon, I went into Thursday Bloody Thursday with high hopes. In the morning singles match, I quickly got down 0-3, changed my strategy, and reeled off six straight games to take the first set (“You’re my hero!”, shouted Andy, our ranch pro). As the morning got hotter and more humid, my opponent Mark began to toughen up as well. The match turned into a super-tiebreak marathon with two of The Legends (Ross Case and Dick Stockton), cheering us on well after all the other matches had finished. Towards the end, I had the will but not the wheels and Mark had prevailed. I later learned that he drives 27 hours each way to and from camp, presumably to improve his mental toughness. After a cold shower, a light lunch, and a brief nap, it was go time once again.

    I had been a bit disappointed at the morning meeting to learn that our team was playing a few men short, and as a result, I wouldn’t be playing doubles again with my (now former) partner Rich in the afternoon. However, I was rewarded with another wonderful partner– Cessna Decosimo, sculptor, philosopher, and lob-chaser extraordinaire [http://www.cessnadecosimo.com/artist.html]. Our worthy opponents on the outermost court were the towering Neal-at-the-Net and fleet-footed Sig-the-Jackrabbit. The sun was relentless and Cessna helped me learn the fine Southern arts of slowing things down while always seeking shade, no matter how slight. As the wind came up, the match began to echo Bob Dylan’s famous advice from the 1960s– “The answer my friend, is lobbing in the wind!” By the end of the second set, my feet were fully encased in cement. All that was left was to throw me in the river (please!). Despite Cessna’s remarkably heroic gets, we eventually lost in a super-tiebreaker, my second of the day. After our match, the last one still in progress on a long, long row of baking hot courts, my buddy Rich told me the good news: our team (The Musclemen) had won the day, vaulting from fourth to second place (first place having been won by the Mongrel Kangaroos before the competition even began, according to some). My own match had not mattered a whit, but nevertheless some of The Legends (Owen Davidson, Ross Case, and Fred Stolle) had sat in the hot sun watching and cheering us on until the bittersweet end. As a friend back home likes to say, the beer always tastes better when you win. However, the beer still tastes pretty good when you know you’ve given it all you’ve got, particularly when you’re surrounded by so much love of the game.
    All the best,
    Joe

    P.S. Two small points of clarification about your story. First, calling me “preeminent” would be akin to calling me a skilled tennis player (The Legends were happy to disabuse me of that notion throughout the week). Second, the person who told me about Newk’s Legends Fantasy camp was Andrea Barnes, a former Stanford University tennis player who is now the Tennis Director at the Stanford Campus Recreation Association. She’s the pro who taught me the backhand topspin lob that earned a compliment from Newk himself (another highlight of my week). Andrea had two things to say about Newk’s Fantasy Camp: (1) I would have a blast; (2) She would be very jealous (since it’s men-only). In the words of our former gubernator, “I’ll be baaaaaaack!”

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