The off-and-on drizzle of Tuesday became a steady downpour on Wednesday. With no chance of let-up, Steve Contardi let us know at breakfast that we’d probably get only one eight-game doubles match apiece. There would be a couple of consolation prizes, however. First, we’d have afternoon clinics for all four teams, with the ranch pros acting as feeders, and the Legends moving around from court to court, taking campers aside for one-on-one coaching on overhead technique and when and where to hit an effective approach shot. And around 5:30, the four new Legends—Philippoussis, Kriek, Ferreira, and Pernfors—would play an exhibition doubles match, with Mark and Johan taking on Wayne and Mikael.
That promised to be a memorable moment. But what may well turn out to be the most unforgettable memory of the week, happened a few hours earlier. Partner David Brand and I drew two strong opponents—Coloradan Tom Lich and Texan Harry Herzog. In our “warm-up,” Harry must have hit 20 winners. Which did not warm me up. Partner Dave later said, “I didn’t think either of us could beat either of them in singles.” But as the match progressed, we began to feel comfortable. Harry rarely hit as hard as he had before the match began (was it a strategy?), and after 40 minutes we found ourselves up 7-6, with a match point. Harry served to my forehand, and I took a near-perfect swing. The ball hit the net a couple of inches below the cord. Two points later, another match point. Another serve to my forehand. Another near-perfect swing. Nearer, in fact. This time the ball crept up halfway over the netcord, paused tantalizingly, then fell back.
As agonizing as that was, it got worse. We were up 4-1 in the seven-point tiebreaker, then 5-4, then I decided to hit a puffball second serve and Tom hit a dropshot return for a winner. It’s all a bit of a blur from then on, but I believe we lost 9-7 at the tiebreak’s end. My stomach is still in a knot as I type.
It’s also not clear to me exactly how we Dunnies stand. I think I heard at the Wednesday night post-dinner (it was Taco Night, a favorite) that we’d lost the day 8-4 to the Musclemen. And that the other two teams were 6-5, perhaps favoring the Kangaroos. Or maybe it was the other way around. Time will tell.
Showing Why They’re New Legends
Whatever the resumes of Mark, Johan, Mikael, and Wayne may have lacked in comparison to Rocket, Newk, Emmo, etc., their performances in the one-set exhibition more than made up for it. Philippoussis showed off his still-120+-miles-per-hour serve and his 100-mph forehand, Ferreira his speed and nearly-as-fast serve, Kriek his court smarts and lobbing skills, and Pernfors his remarkable trick shots, including one serve he began with his back to the court (as a consequence, he was facing sheep farmer/bodyguard Angus Deane and suggested he might hit him; Angus suggested back that he might strangle him), tossed the ball and blindly hit it backwards into the box, where a bemused Kriek netted his return. The crowd went wild. And it wasn’t even Pernfors’ best trick.
The score was irrelevant—Mark and Johan won a seven-point tiebreaker at 6-all—but the quality of tennis higher than any I’d seen since 2011, when I first came. You didn’t forget about the bad weather, but it was as well-ended a day as any I’d experienced at the ranch.
A New Boat Race Era
Wednesday night is always capped by the Australian Boat Race, an eight-man team chugging contest dominated in the past by the combined Kangaroos/Musclemen squad, overseen by Newk. Each team member, in relay-race format, chugs a plastic cup of beer, turns it over, and slams it onto a napkin, signaling the teammate next to him to pick up a cup and start gulping. First to finish wins, unless excess spillage measured by trainer Starr results in a penalty. The Dunnie/Wanker team, in the recent past, had been led by Mark Woodforde, but his absence had led to Kriek taking the wheel. Building around a core of Boat Race Hall of Famer Greg Arendt and wiley veteran Marc Segan and adding several thirsty ranch pros, Kriek had built a formidable challenger.
Preceding the big race were a fascinating Power Point show about the “Four Musketeers,” the Frenchmen—Borotra, Brugnon, Cochet and Lacoste—who dominated world tennis for a decade beginning in 1922, and a discussion with Legend Owen Davidson about how he, somewhat accidentally, became one of the first two pros to play an Open Tennis match in 1968 at Bournemouth, England. After that chat, Rod Laver was asked to reflect about the recent Laver Cup, which he insisted had been named after him only in order to honor the past players of his generation and which, he added, would be played in Geneva, Switzerland next year.
“He’s too humble,” Charlie Pasarell interjected. “They named it for the greatest player ever.”
“And the little red-haired bastard wound up here,” laughed Newk.
It was time for the race. In a moment it was over, and the insurgents had won. The spillage was all on the losers’ side. As the festivities continued into the evening, even more good news emerged: the sun was definitely coming out on Thursday.