Can one lose 12 consecutive sets, and still come away thinking it’s been one of the great tennis weeks of one’s life? If you’re me, the answer’s a resounding YES. Throughout the six days, beginning Sunday afternoon with a great practice session that included brother Joe, Tennessee mandolin whiz Tony Huber, the second Tony (Blair), Hollywood literary agent (no, that’s apparently not an oxymoron) Mitch Kaplan, and Brazilian ranch pro Thiago, to the final set on Thursday and the wonderful Legends clinic Friday morning, there were important lessons, terrific conversations, tasty food, unlimited beer, and—in my case—some really good games. I even discovered we had a washer/dryer combo hidden in a cabinet in our condo, so I could do my own laundry.
So let me start, briefly, with the Thursday losses (I also lost in the Wednesday afternoon doubles, but I can’t recall a single worthy point. Nevertheless, opponent Chris Sullivan thought enough of me to invite my wife and I to visit him when we’re in Florida this winter; perhaps he’s looking for a punching bag). Despite our shellacking by Newk’s Kangaroos on Wednesday, we Dunnies were still technically in the hunt for the championship come Thursday morning, the best day yet with—as I mentioned in the previous entry—a bit of cloud cover, no wind, and temps in the mid-seventies. In fact, we would not see a drop of rain until Friday morning, with about five minutes left in the two-hour clinic. And we never had stifling temperatures.
Thursday morning began with Dick Stockton and Brian Gottfried—who’d not only been a terrific Davis Cup and pro tour doubles team, but had also played together in college, at Trinity University, the Texas school that in the Sixties became a tennis powerhouse—discussing equipment, doubles strategies, and other topics. Fun facts included that a) their rackets were typically string at 62 pounds (about 14 pounds more than the one I’m using), b) weighed up to 16 ounces (close to twice what mine weighs), and c) their grips were much larger (I recalled that, back in the day, we were encouraged to use as large a grip as possible). What was especially fun was hearing Dick tell the story of, as a kid, sneaking into the West Side with older brother Steve during the U.S. Nationals (pre-Open, obviously), then sneaking onto a grass court to hit, then being spotted by legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman who invited the boys back to our clubhouse locker room to meet some of the players, one of whom—Marty Mulligan—gave Dick one of his signature rackets that read on one side, “Your Serve”, and on the other, “My Serve”. Those were the days.
Then it was on to the final contest against the first-place Wankers. Emmo’s squad had already edged Newk’s guys (on the final tiebreaker point of the final match), so we knew we weren’t the favorites. But Mark Woodforde gave us a great pep talk, and Stolle sort of thanked us for coming, so anything—theoretically—could happen. Ever since I started coming to the Legends Week, I’d hoped for a singles match with Lake Forest, Illinois dentist Len Saltzman, another Legends Week Hall of Famer whom I’d teamed with in doubles a year ago. As they say, be careful what you wish for. Len cruised through the first set, then I found a bit of backbone and took the second to a tiebreaker, leading at first, then collapsing at the end. But I had a great sprint to stave off one match point. So I’ve got that to hang on to.
Before the match, however, we had a real scare. Teammate Mark Wirth, 55 years old, started having chest pains and feeling dizzy just before serving in his morning doubles match. Two doctors on nearby courts—teammate Scott Miller and Wanker Aiden Levine, both physicians—rushed to him. Lying on the court, shirt off, the docs attached a “smart” defribillator’s pads to his chest. The machine took over, doing analysis and telling them what it found. After several rounds of evaluation, each ending with the announcement that there was no need to shock, the New Braunfels EMT team finally showed up, followed by an ambulance. Mark went to the hospital, and returned a couple of hours later. He wanted to play his next match. Doctor Miller told him he was nuts. Sanity prevailed. By the way, I had overheard Mark telling the EMTs he hadn’t eaten breakfast. Lesson for the week: before a morning match, eat your Wheaties (or yogurt, or scrambled eggs, or whatever).
My afternoon doubles was more of the same, although partner Mark Dang did his best to try to carry me. Having lost 12 sets in a row, I was consoled by the fact that I couldn’t tie—or perhaps even set—a Legends record of 13, because Newk and Steve Contardi had decided to restrict the Legends doubles matches to the rookies. And then Steve accosted me in the gazebo, and asked did I want to play against brother Joe in an unexpected open slot. Go for it, I figured.
And so it came to pass that South African legend Danie Visser and I, spotting my bro and Luke Jensen a 4-0 lead, stormed from behind to victory 7-6 (7-5 in the tiebreaker). Did I mention that I aced Luke during the comeback? No? Well, check with him next time you see him. I think he’ll remember. (Although at the end of the set, I wondered—well, actually remarked—whether mother Pat had actually given birth to triplets, and we were playing the third Jensen, Homer Jensen. I say that only because at one point he announced he was hitting his “cannonball” serve … and I returned it for an outright winner. I don’t think that would have happened to Luke. Or Murphy, who turned out to be absent due to the impending birth of his first child. Just saying.)
So then it was the final night. Awards were given. Teams were asked to stand and bask in applause. Three teams, that is. Stolle, Woodforde, and Gottfried apparently decided one final shaming was in order. Doc Eden told a final round of jokes—including two Hall of Famers of epically filthy proportions. And then the Aussies present led us in the closing “Waltzing Matilda” singalong.
The Friday two-hour was worthy of its own blog entry. Suffice it to say it was a great opportunity to a) get some one-on-one coaching with every Legend, as you circulated from one of eight courts to another, and b) to say good-bye and, hopefully, see you next year to each. See you next year.