Tuesday morning, as promised by the forecasters, was grim. A cold rain had fallen all night and was continuing as dawn broke about half past seven. Organizer Steve Contardi had already sent email advisories letting us know that the schedule would be, well, truncated. All morning matches would be played on the four indoor courts. We would only play doubles. Each match would be a single eight-game pro set, and there would be no-ad scoring (that is, at deuce or 3-3, the next point would decide the game, and the receiving team could choose which player would receive the serve). If the set was tied at 7-7, the teams would play a short, seven-point tiebreaker.
As we walked to the covered courts, several ranch pros were already working on the hard courts, a hopeful sign. Less inspirational was the lighting on the indoor ones: dim, and helped very little by the skylights that looked as if they’d been last power-washed in the previous century. But, one could rationalize, it was the same for our opponents—Newk’s Mongrel Kangaroos, who surprisingly had trailed Laver’s and Davidson’s Musclemen by a point after day one.
David Brand, my partner, and I got a good draw. We would play my Legends pal Tony Huber and his rookie partner Doug. I often practice with Tony on the Sunday arrival day—he’s a great guy living in rural Tennessee, works with the disadvantaged, and makes memorable music (and his own CDs)—but we’ve never, as far as either of us could remember, faced each other for real (Tony first came to Newk’s in 2009, a couple of years ahed of me). Based on our results, I’d happily agree to a rematch. David was a great complement, big serve, big forehand, and tall enough to protect me against being lobbed. We started slowly, caught them at 4-4, and pulled away to win 8-5. Brother Joe took his match too, grinding out a tough 8-6 result with rookie partner Kevin over World Series ring-holder Larry Starr and Newk best friend Angus Deane, who had somehow recaptured his interest in tennis (he used to be, I’ve been told, a serious player regularly partnering with author Joel Drucker). Angus, readers may recall, has a sheep farm encompassing tens of thousands of acres in the Australian Outback; he also served as the bodyguard for the Aussie Davis Cup team when Newk was coach. But this was the first time I had seen him actually engaged in tennis. It was a bit intimidating, and I was proud Joe found his way through the match to win it.
West Sider Knipe won his first match for our opponents, but anchor-turned-actor Brad Holbrook fell to the very tough team of blogger George Wachtel (you can read his version of the week’s events at www.seniortennisandfitness.com) and old foe Jim Bumgartner. All in all, a very good morning, and I was liking the eight-game pro set. I felt energized and Mother Nature was cooperating. The courts were drying, the sun peeking was through clouds, and we would be back outside.
A Beautiful Afternoon, But Not Perfect
Normally our singles are in the morning, but this day they were flipped to the afternoon. Another eight-game pro set (we didn’t have all the courts available, because there weren’t enough ranch pros to do that job, and we were starting a bit late in the day), but this time with regular scoring. We were up one point, but knew that the Kangaroos’ strength was in singles. That was the bad news. The good news was that I’d drawn trainer Starr, whose game I’d just studied watching my brother.
What’s interesting to know about Larry is that he’s become a marathon runner, even survived the nightmarishly cold weather at last year’s Boston Marathon—his first Boston run—one of only two out of 17 South Florida club runners to finish. I was not going to win a long three-setter. But I liked my chances in a first-to-eight contest. And I was right. At 3-3, I found my singles groove for the first time in years, won five games in a row, and had a singles point. Would it be enough? Not quite.
Despite an epic tiebreak victory by Dave Kartzinel over Kenn Tarantino, son of Legend veteran Rich and undefeated in 2017 in both singles and doubles—Kenn was injured in he match, finished it, and immediately went to the trainer’s shed. Larry’s verdict: he was probably done for the week.
With less play and no heat to speak of, the walking wounded seem fewer this week. I know I like not feeling beat up midway through day two, three, or four. But the Kangaroos had already lost a team member before the week began, and after my match I watched what was going on two courts away where Newk had put on a sub, someone named Troy from his country club. At one point, our player Jeff O’Mara shouted, with irony, “What am I doing here?” It was not a same level match-up, as the final 8-2 score indicated. And that was the difference. The Kangaroos prevailed by two points.
Meanwhile, the Musclemen kept pace, and the Wankers, for the moment, languished in the cellar. But with three more rounds of matches to play, anything could happen. For example, it could stop raining.
Four Legendary Tales
The evening presentation showcased the four new Legends—Wayne Ferreira, Danie Visser, Johan Kriek, and Mikael Pernfors—three of whom represented South Africa in Davis Cup competion, during the apartheid era and afterwards. Only one, Danie, still resides there, in Pretoria. The other two, Ferreira and Kriek, live in Hilton Head and Palm Beach Gardens, respectively (Ferreira also spends a lot of time in Nashville, where his son plays for Vanderbilt). The fourth, Swede Mikael Pernfors, also lives in the States, where he went to junior college and the University of Georgia, winning national titles twice at each stop.
Before they told their stories, Doc Eden offered three more unprintable jokes, asked the six people present who been attending for 31 years to pose with him for a picture, “because at 92 and a half, there are no guarantees.” The somewhat younger sextet—Newk, Emmo, Davo, Steve Contardi, Marty Riessen, and Jeremy Fieldsend, the ranch operator—stood at attention, beaming.
After a plea for more volunteers for the annual Australian Boat Race—a beer chugging contest pitting a eight-man team taken from two of the teams against eight from the other two—and a standing ovation for Newk upon receiving an American flag from Dave O’Steen, who had worked in the Pentagon (the flag had flown over the Pentagon, the White House, or the Capitol, but was definitely used with a certificate to prove it), the story-telling commenced.
What was intriguing was that each had stories and perspectives none of us had heard before. The arcs were similar, discovering tennis as the primary sport as a child, being nurtured by family and a great coach, inspired by the greats who’d preceded them, and eventually representing their countries at the highest level. But each had different highs, lows, and in-betweens. Pernfors was on the other side of the net when John McEnroe was defaulted at the Australian Open, and later lost to Pat Cash in a Davis Cup final, but partied with the Aussies that night. Ferreira played tennis to stay out of school, led South Africa back from the depths of David Cup qualifying to the World Group, beat Sampras and other big servers, but could never take Agassi. Visser joined Ferreira for the South African Davis Cup comeback and took inspiration from Cliff Drysdale, a surprise visitor on Tuesday to the covered courts. Kriek, a US resident since 1978, played with Visser’s brother and found support from Danie’s family. He loved the heat and long matches, finishing his career 18-4 in five-setters.
It was a lot to take in, but one thing was clear. All four felt honored to be coaching us and hanging out with the original Legends. As Pernfors noted, “I love teaching adults. You don’t have to deal with their parents.”