No, that is not fake news. Really. It’s just another opening day to remember at Legends Week.
Although it does come with the caveat that the greatest tennis player in history had spent the prior 15 minutes or so watching four of us play several practice games on one of the outer hard courts, and during the course of that viewing had pointed out my backhand lacked a shoulder turn, my forehand preparation was very late, and overall I was pretty rubbish. Well, he didn’t say rubbish, or the Aussie equivalent, but I could feel his disparagement.
And when he praised my swinging forehand volley—after I’d connected on it three times in a row—my partner, a Columbus, Ohio automobile dealer named Dick Nourse took it with a large grain of salt, saying “Right, Rod, with his charging forehand volley you would have won a lot more tournaments.”
Still, I had something to carry me through the week, along with the fact the sun had shown all afternoon. And some were saying it might be dry for most of Monday morning.
The Coachs’ Introduction
At a little past 4 pm, Central Daylight Time, the hundred or so of us gathered at the bleachers next to the gazebo by Court Five, the number-one hard court (the Ranch has four Har-Tru clay courts a bit lower on the property, which are 1 through 4, and the trainer’s “room”, a large open-walled wood structure with a huge fireplace at its center, stands next to them).
After manager Steve Contardi, battery-powered megaphone in hand, called us to order, John Newcombe gave us his opening greeting and began by passing along a Fred Stolle message, since Fred—apparently in nearby Austin, but on other business—wouldn’t be leading his team this year. “Fred told me to tell his Dunnies that you’re all rubbish, that you play like (expletive deleted … there’ll be a lot of that his week), and that you never listen to him,” Newk shared. He added that Dick Stockton, the usual assistant to “Fiery Fred,” as he’s called, would be the head man now. And the very good news—as I anticipated being a Dunnie for yet another season—was Dick would have three new assistants: Luke Jensen, Johan Kriek, and Mikael Pernfors.
Newk introduced his Mongrel Kangaroos staff: Charlie Pasarell, Rick Leach, and newcomer Mark Philippoussis. Philippoussis, the Greek-Aussie hard-server, had almost singlehandedly defeated the French on their clay to win the Davis Cup for his mates Down Under, and for that, offered Newk, he deserved canonization. It made me think how sad it was that kind of saintly drama is unlikely to be repeated in the new Cup format.
Roy Emerson followed with the coaches of the defending champion Wankers (they’d beaten the Kangaroos by one point, decided on the final match of the final day)—Marty Riessen and two South Africans, Danie Visser and Wayne Ferreira. He promised he’d teach them English.
Owen Davidson, who’d been recovering a year ago from a serious operation, looked fit and healthy as he declared the Musclemen, named after early Legend coach Ken Rosewall, would have “Rocket” Rod Laver helping him lead them. And furthering the Rocket and Davo’s cause would be Ross “Snake” Case.
And Stockton finished up, channeling his inner Stolle to point out that the 2017 Dunnies were so lousy they finished fifth. “And we only had four teams,” he added. I thought Stolle would have let the punchline stand on its own.
The Draft And No Big Surprise
The late afternoon, as in the past, was in effect a try-out for the rookies and a recreational hit (unless Rod Laver was watching your every swing) for the veterans. At 6:30, after a shower, we headed into the lodge for the first happy hour (some of us stopping by Court Five to watch a phenomenal match featuring Philippoussis and three Ranch pros). “I want play with you guys,” Mark told me later. I’d be happy to have him as my partner.
While we were happy-houring, the coaches—based on what they’d seen that afternoon—were making their selections. After dinner—lobster tails and beef tenderloin (rookies soon learn this is not a week-long standard)—the teams were announced. West Sider Jon Knipe would join Newk’s Kangaroos, a great outcome. Anchorman Brad would be a Muscleman, getting daily input from the Rocket. And brother Joe and I? Dunnies once more.
The Sunday night greeting speech had been given by New Yorker Marc Segan, after Dr. Al Eden’s traditional dirty-joke opening (the only quote I can offer begins, “Why does a woman rub her eyes in the morning?”; everything else he said would have webmaster Cox arrested if it appeared on his site). Marc had read from an imaginary diary kept by a Legends camper. The diary began by describing Doc Eden, on first impression, as a morally conservative “ray of light.” It closed by observing that Dick Stockton had choked his Fantasy doubles match.
So no big surprise that, come Monday, Joe was already hobbled by a bum heel. I was begging to be given easier singles opponents. And fellow Dunnies Marty Judge and Joel Drucker were shaking their heads sadly.
The good news? No rain yet. Monday: A Davis Cup Eulogy