Let me begin with a correction: there are 92 of us here (not 96), and 26 are rookies. My brother Joe, one of the newbies, was quizzed by Dr. Al Eden at lunch. Doc Eden’s been coming here for 29 years now and admitted over burgers that he had, in fact, dialed back the filthiness of his dirty jokes. But he suggested he might resurrect one or two of the grossest tonight, in honor of the Australian Boat Race. What I love about this place is that, as brother Joe and I sat down, Doc and Rod Laver were studying the two teams’ lineups and assessing whether there were any weaknesses. Rod Laver! The GOAT of tennis! Analyzing our annual drinking game strategies! You can’t make this stuff up …
Anyway, as I was reporting, brother Joe was asked the question that Doc says he asks all the rookies every year. “On a scale of one to ten,” Doc said, adding that one meant completely unsatisfactory and a ten meant off-the-charts great, “how would you rate this week?” Joe paused, and Doc assured him that he wanted an honest answer. “A nine,” Joe decided. “A nine and rising because we still have two days to go.”
I was pleased, but wanted to know more—especially as Joe had suffered a tough doubles loss in the morning—and, knowing he’ll be writing about this week for the Boston Globe, asked him if he could elaborate on this first impression. Here’s what he had to say:
“It’s difficult to imagine a sports fantasy camp—not that I’ve been to any others—that combines the elements of genuinely competitive play, high-level coaching and clinic instruction, and elbow-rubbing with Legends and heroes the way this one does,” Joe wrote. “After our doubles matches yesterday, Terry and I stood around Emmo for a good half hour, discussing the matches ahead and those already played in a relaxed, unscripted manner. Yesterday and today, my partners and I had Luke Jensen courtside with us, adjusting our doubles strategy on the fly. Priceless.
“The Jensen brothers, by the way, remind me of the Smothers brothers—only with better groundstrokes and crisper serves. I naturally couldn’t pass up the chance to ask them, OK, which one did your mom always like best? ‘Murphy!’ Luke replied without hesitating. I believe him. Although I’m scoring that a fifth-set tiebreaker.”
That’s a pretty good description … and Joe’s a rookie. Can’t wait to read what he publishes in the Globe.
The big difference for me this year have been the mornings. Yes, we still start with a lecture/demonstration each day, and today it was Gottfried and Stockton, focused on the volley. And like every other year, that was followed by our calisthenics, led by trainer Larry Starr. an
interesting guy. For decades, Larry worked with the Cincinnati Reds of Major League baseball. Now, semi-retired, he wraps knees and ankles at a couple of pro tennis tournaments, and, on Sundays during the National Football League season, he sits above the field at the Hard Rock Stadium (home to the Miami Dolphins) with binoculars, a TV monitor, and a headset connecting directly to the game’s head referee. If he sees a player get his bell rung, and no one on the field has taken action, Starr has the authority to order the ref to initiate a concussion protocol, removing said player from game whether he or his coach like it or not. He apparently has done this numerous times in the past two years. It’s a good job for Larry; he’s no shrinking violet.
As I started to say, the mornings have changed for several of us. Before the week began, we were offered the option of not playing singles. Roughly a third of us made that choice. Given the heat has been, at times, in the 90s all three days, I think Joe and I made a good decision. My morning match today with Chuck Beckner (without the neon barcode outfit), began and ended strangely. We jumped to a 6-0, 3-0 lead, capitalizing on opponent Jeff Raffman’s announcement, “I might be dying,” and the concern it caused him (he’d had blood pressure issues over the first few days, and I often saw him at the trainer’s station, getting his pressure measured). By game 10, Jeff realized he had a little more time on earth and began hitting with purpose. We traded games to get to 5-2, then lost three. Emmo, who’d left our match when it seemed well in hand, was—for him—fuming. “I walk away for 15 minutes, and you lose four out of five games?” he sputtered. “I told you to step on their throats.” Two games later, we had the match.
The afternoon match could have been on a different planet. I was paired with Lenny Saltzman, who has a game similar to mine, is nearly the same age (I think I have a year or two on him), and has as well nearly the same height challenge. We faced Marc Segan, a veteran from the Upper East Side who had delivered the FAQs on Monday evening, and Chris Sullivan, a 67-year-old who checks in at roughly 6-3 and who regularly plays the USTA Senior Circuit in Florida. The match went back and forth for close to three hours. We managed to eke out the first set in a tiebreaker, lost the second 6-2, and then played a 10-point super-tiebreaker in lieu of a third set (standard procedure for the week). We were tied 6-6 at one point, but I couldn’t convert a relatively easy forehand volley and a more difficult (but by no means impossible) head-high backhand volley. We lost the super-tiebreaker 10-7, but I felt very satisfied, even proud, that Lenny and I had played them more or less even. For nearly three hours.
The Australian Boat Race
The team led by Angus Deane and Newk, comprised of ranch pros (the young men and women who assist with drills and hit with anyone who wants to) and campers from the Wankers and the Kangaroos, rarely if ever lose the traditional beer-drinking contest. Perhaps it was the fact that neither Angus nor Newk did any competitive consuming. Perhaps it was that Mark Woodforde was able to draft someone who was neither camper nor ranch pro (he had been an attendee in years past, to fortuitously stop by for dinner this Wednesday).
Any way, the two six-man teams began drinking—one of the irregularly enforced rules required that no more than 10 per cent of the cup (the equivalent of one bottle) could be spilled. Starr played the role of regulator. Angus circled the table menacingly. Doc Eden, the Boat Race Commissioner, stood on a bench at one end. The Jensen brothers flanked the Doc, serving as the Race’s sergeants-at-arms. The Woodforde team suffered some spillage but edged out Newk’s boys. Much shouting and a bit of conversation ensued. The Doc decided a rerun was in order. After more shouts, Woodforde et.al. won again. “Don’t leave, mate,” Angus advised me. “This isn’t over yet.”
And indeed it may not be. The Doc told me early this morning that a challenge had been filed with the Commissioner’s office. Was he going to do it all yet again? “We’ll see,” he answered mysteriously.
What is all over is any chance the Wankers had of winning the week. Now 0-2, we will play the Dunnies, my old team and also 0-2, for third place, pride and fun. Mostly fun.