There are a number of differences already between this year’s Tennis Fantasy Week and last year’s—more campers, better weather, an on-site documentary film crew the size of a Hollywood production, to name a few—but the most substantial agent of change for me is the presence of Fred Stolle.
Stolle was introduced (or reintroduced) on Sunday afternoon, after missing last year’s session because of a family wedding. I hadn’t paid as much attention to him and to his career in the mid-Sixties, when he was in his prime (two Grand Slam singles titles, 10 GS doubles titles, three Davis Cup championships), and had little sense of his personality compared with, say, Emmo or Newk or Rod Laver. But his Wikipedia entry is interesting in that it begins with the statement that “Stolle is notable for being the only male player in history to have lost his first five Grand Slam singles finals, the fifth of which he led by two sets to love.” One can imagine that kind of history could breed substantial free-floating hostility, or that one of his old Aussie mates contributed the text.
Stolle, wearing a white t-shirt, a cap and a pair of plain navy shorts, would be leading the Dunnies, my team from last year. But there was no guarantee I’d be a Dunnie in 2012. The player draft was set for Sunday evening, but with so many more players this year and 17 or so newbies (the total number of attendees is now 96, and could have been more—eight registrants dropped out in the past 24 hours), teams would inevitably be reconfigured. Stolle began by correcting my impression that a Dunnie was a toilet. “It’s an Australian outhouse,” he explained. Well, not exactly. It was more along the lines of, “Eff you all, you effing effers. You gave my best effing guys to Newk, and you all went in the effing toilet, and you effing stunk. And that’s why it’s called an effing outhouse. And it’s not effing happening again.” Or something along those lines.
There was a sustained uproar of laughter, except from the film crew (many of them female, though, one imagines and hopes, toughened by years of assignments in war zones, urban jungles, and smoke-filled backrooms). Then Owen Davidson, leader of the Musclemen, followed, cautioning, “I hope you realize that Fred was not joking. That’s exactly how he feels.” The next laughs sounded bit forced, a little hollow.
By the time dinner arrived (lobster tails, tenderloin, salad, broccoli, grilled tomatoes, cheesecake, Aussie cabernet, and French beaujolais on the tables), my 2011 doubles partner Rich Flisher and I had played a couple of practice doubles sets, winning one easily and going 5-5 in the other. We both felt pretty good about the workout. But sitting next to Dick Stockton at dinner, we couldn’t get him to confirm we’d be playing together this week. The night ended with each group of coaches announcing their teams and calling their players to the front of the room. Newk went first, then Emmo, then Stolle, and finally Davidson. Stolle assigned Mark Woodforde the task of making the announcement. Woody called my name, but not Rich’s. Flisher would be hitting for the Musclemen.
As I made my way forward to pick up my team shirt, I saw Stolle eying me, skeptically. I shook his hand solemnly, and kept my mouth shut.