Bizarro MVP

The magic dust, as is its wont, wore off, although I didn’t know that when I awoke in my casita to yet another beautiful day of sun and mid-80s temps. The Dunnies were to face the Musclemen—coached by Owen Davidson, Ross Case, and Murph Jensen. Named in honor of Ken Rosewall, the Musclemen had had narrow losses the first two days and looked to be improving every session. Coach Stolle, at his pre-match meeting with us on Court 6, offered congratulations and a warning not to let up. Then he sent me off to face another Brit, 58-year-old Peter Godbey, a tall rookie with an impressive and classic serve-and-volley game. The good news was that he was roughly my age; the bad news that he was—as noted—tall, good volleyer, better server.

photo of Adrian Bodici, pro at John Newcombe Tennis Ranch

Ranch pro Adrian Bodici, my personal choice for MVP

Yet again, I found myself in tiebreakers and yet again, on the losing side. The second breaker was particularly frustrating, as Peter had been kicking my butt and was serving to go up 5-0, and I was wondering what was for lunch. But I pulled myself together, broke him, held, and got all the way back to 5-5. Once again though, at 6-6, I faltered and that was all he needed. My ranch pro, Adrian, who’d helped me get back in the first set by suggesting I lob Peter to get him off the net, and who’d helped me again by bringing water onto the court, wasn’t there to bail me out. And Peter’s ranch pro was. At least, that’s what I thought he did. When, post-match, I asked the pro what he’d told my opponent, he feigned innocence. “Peter figured it out for himself,” he asserted.

The talented Slater family of Canadians

Coach Stolle, with Andrew, the star of the talented Slater family. Fred referred to them as the “effing Canucks”, but he clearly meant it in a collegial, team-building way

I wasn’t alone in my frustration and—although my doubles partner Greg had bested Len Saltzman, a physician from Lake Forest, Illinois—we were behind by a couple of points at the lunch break. Stockton, Woody, and Coach Fred gave us another pep talk—the Slater family of four from Vancouver, British Columbia had now morphed into “the effing Canucks,” but it was clear to all of us that Stolle meant that in a collegial, team-building way—and my rocket scientist and I trudged off to Court 21, a hard court in the hinterlands, near the indoor tennis center, where the junior tennis program attendees were working out until we campers freed up their courts.

Our opponents turned out to be Dr. Saltzman and Ed Tunick, a businessman from Fairfield County, Connecticut, who often played together at the Legends Week. Ed was visibly limping during the warm-up—he would tell me later that he’d delayed a knee replacement until after the week, had recently been given a pacemaker implant, and his Achilles was bothering him—and Greg knew the doctor’s game well from the morning. Nevertheless, they got up a break in the first set, with Ed playing heroically, and then they hit a bit of a wall. We won five out of six games to close the first set, and were up 4-1 in the second, when I heard my partner groan, stretching for a winner. “What’s wrong?” I whispered. “I just pulled my hammy,” he answered, “but don’t worry. I just can’t push off well.” I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Ed and Len began redirecting their shots towards him, normally an idiotic strategy when I’m the other option, but now one that had some value. They closed to 4-2, and Greg and I huddled with our coach, Dick Stockton. I would cover three-quarters of the court, Greg stay in the other quarter, either up or back, depending on the situation. Shockingly, we won two of the next three games, and the match, 7-5, 6-3.

But it wasn’t enough, and the Musclemen took us out by a couple of points, so we finished in a three-way tie for second at 1-2, with Newk’s Kangaroos successfully defending their title. Or so we thought. At the Awards Banquet, Newk announced that we were actually fourth—that would be last—based on the number of matches we’d won. “I’m proud of the way we competed,” he smiled, “but those effing Canucks … ” He shook his head.

Dr. Al Eden and son Bobby

The Eden clan: Dr. Al and son Bobby, the past, present and possible future of the Legends story

The final night was, in fact, a love fest. A trailer for the Tennis Fantasie documentary had already been finished, and was shown. Newk’s Kangaroos assembled for one last Samoan war dance and chant. Dr. Al Eden, who’d attended every Legends Week, told three classic dirty jokes—one about a man walking into a bar, one about an obscene limerick contest, and one whose punch line referenced a decapitation—“for the rookies.” Many of them seemed to know the last one, as nearly every camper shouted the last line in unison. “Good luck on getting that in the movie,” said Bobby Eden, Doc’s son and a regular—though not 25 in a row—attendee.

At the bar before dinner, Al and Bobby had reflected on the future of the Week (and Steve Contardi had suggested I call him Saturday, when he’d be in his car, driving from Texas to Ohio, to discuss the topic further), both feeling confident that, with a bit of tweaking, it still had legs. The introduction of Murph Jensen, for example, showed that strong young personalities could fit in well with the elder statesmen, and take the pressure off their needing to perform at all on the court. (Neither Mal Anderson, nor Emmo, played any Fantasy Doubles during the week, although Newk who hadn’t hit last year, returned to the Doubles court this October.) The fact that there several father-and-son combos, and other youthful attendees (damn you, Rory Springfield … and I say that collegially) also boded well. The truth would probably be told in the numbers signing up for the 26th year.

As the evening wore down, Newk announced the MVPs—Rory and Steve Franklin. Three of my losses, all five tiebreaks, had been to them. I turned to Al Eden, sitting next to me.
“I’m the bizarro MVP,” I said, “their doppelganger.”

The Doc looked at me with the slightest of grins, and shook his head as if in pity, as Stolle had when he mentioned the effing Canucks. I’d seen Stockton do it, and Woody, and—a few minutes earlier—Stolle. I knew what it meant. And I was glad of one thing: Doc hadn’t called me Champ.

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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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