As many of you who will read this blog—the fifth I’ve done since 2011, when I came to John Newcombe’s Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas for the first time—will already know, the annual Tennis Legends Week is part class reunion, part intense competition, and only in the most technical sense a “fantasy camp.” The tennis we play, under the watchful eyes and lashed by the serpent’s tongues of some of the sport’s greatest (Newk, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Fred Stolle, and Owen Davidson, for starters), is at as high a level as any most of us—if not all—will experience in our leagues or tournaments. There’s nothing imaginary going on here, author Joel Drucker will no doubt remind me again this week, it’s authentic.
That said, I must begin with a mea culpa. Last year, I never finished the week or this blog. A virus laid me low on the Wednesday, and although I staggered through Thursday on the court, I couldn’t find the extra energy to get in front of the keyboard. So for those of you who were wondering how the week finished … well, our Wankers lost the final match to Stolle’s Dunnies and wound up dead last, although brother Joe and I won our first doubles match together (that week, I might add, not in our lifetimes). Which team won it all? Not sure … probably Newk’s. I was feverish and could not have cared less.
Anyway, the past is the past. The rituals however remain the same. We will arrive at the ranch this afternoon (Sunday), and hit the courts. In past years, I’ve flown to San Antonio, having to connect in Dallas, and waited for the ranch shuttle to take me and others on the 45-minute drive to New Braunfels. This year, I’m trying something new—a direct flight to Austin, then a rental car drive which Google says should take an hour. Instead of showing up at the lodge around 4, and having trouble finding an open court, we—brother Joe, who also will have traveled non-stop to Austin from Boston—should be swinging our rackets by 2. I like to think we may have found a way to hack the system. On the other hand, the late Bud Collins might have said, “No big surprise to me, I’ve always thought of you Kahns as hackers.” Actually, he did say that.
If you want some detail around what will happen when we arrive, I suggest you take a quick look at one of my previous blogs. What will be different is the team I’m playing with (Joe, too, presumably). I got a call from Legend Dick Stockton, a friend who was the one to convince me to come to Newk’s in the first place, that he (and we) had been released by Coach Emerson, and were being traded to Stolle’s Dunnies (Australian slang for toilets, I probably don’t have to tell you).
Having spent three years as a Dunnie, without a sniff of a championship title, this could be bad news. Stolle may also recall that, in a “Legend doubles” match last year, I aced him … after which he began to refer to me as “Little Sxxx”. However I will embrace the move as a fresh start. And I choose to believe he meant his remark in a collegial, team-building way.
This will also be Rod Laver’s second appearance, and the week has been sold out since April. After our informal hitting today, there will be a player draft. Typically 30 percent of us are rookies. Newk usually gets the best. I’ve never played for Newk’s Mongrel Kangaroos. After a sumptuous surf and turf dinner (a big rookie mistake is to assume the rest of the meals will fall into the same category), we will gather and learn who’s playing for whom. Then a full day of practice on Monday, and on Tuesday, the matches begin.
By the way, this is the 30th anniversary of the Legends Week. And at least a couple of the expected attendees will have been here since the beginning. Unfortunately, I probably won’t get to play either of them.