Day 1: Arrival

Are you going to explain why you?re going to this Fantasy Week, my wife asked? When the alarm rang at 6 this morning, the answer?or lack of a good one?was already on my mind. I?d been vaguely aware of the Newcombe event for several years, but had never considered, or even discussed, it until Dick Stockton had mentioned the camp a couple of years ago in Jupiter, Florida.

Dick Stockton, one of Newk's Legends

Dick "Stax" Stockton

Dick?a Newk Legend?had become the head pro at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, where Lesley and I spend several weeks each winter, a few months earlier,and after we?d hit a few times, he?d suggested that I look into it.

More than a few times, in the 70s and 80s for the most part, I?d been able to spend time with tennis tour pros, and loved it. Bob Kraft, before he?d bought the Patriots, had invested in the initial incarnation of World Team Tennis, and had arranged for me to go on a road trip with his Boston Lobsters. Our traveling entourage had included Roy Emerson, Martina Navratilova, Mike Estep (my roommate on the trip), and the entire Russian national team, which never played at home that season (not surprisingly). I?d played bridge on the terrace at the Newport Hall of Fame with Mark Edmondson and Buster Mottram. I?d lost money I couldn?t afford to lose, playing backgammon with Emilio Montano, the Mexican doubles specialist who I?d hosted in Boston. I?d even spent a week with the late Pancho Gonzalez, talking about a book that he finally decided wouldn?t make him enough money. It had all been good.

So the idea of hanging out with tennis greats, hearing stories and competing with each other (campers and Legends) had real appeal.? And there was the fact that I could afford it. When you add in the cost of transportation, the cost of the week?actually Sunday to Friday?can run close to $5,000. That alone would weed out a lot of people in this economy. Indeed, it may have contributed to the reduction in Legends.

When we gathered on the courts at 4 pm, San Antonio time, there were only eight Legends?Newk, Rick Leach, Davidson, Stockton, Woodforde, Case, Emerson, and Riessen?on site, not the 13 who?d been advertised on the website. After checking in, I found myself in a ?casita? that could house at least four?two full beds and two twins, so I had no complaints. That noted, several returnees said the goodie bag?which had four shirts?was a lot slimmer than previous years.

Owen Davidson at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch

Owen "Davo" Davidson

But, boy, the first day had been fun. Owen Davidson had come on our court while four of us rookies?Hutch, Rob, and a realtor from Los Angeles?played some practice doubles, and explained to Hutch and me how best to protect a forehand from the ad court. ?Cover the middle,? he?d said. ?Force him to hit the crosscourt.? Then, when he?d seen that we?d put the lefty (me) in the deuce court, he?d remarked that we?d demonstrated ?American bullshit? and needed to shift courts. It felt like a gift from the gods. (Davo, as Newk refers to him, also caught the brunt of the early trashtalking. Newk told us that Davo has ?gone to the dark side?, in that he now wears colorful Nike clothing endorsed, supposedly, by Nadal. Davo?s a dour, handsome guy, with a no-nonsense approach to the week. I suspect there will be payback sooner or later.

By the time, at dinner (great food?lobster, sirloin, good table wines), I wasn?t surprised at all when Stockton (known as Stax, according to the Aussies) and Woodforde picked me for the Dunnies, along with Hutch and the LA realtor. Dunnie, by the way, is Aussie slang for toilet. We also happen to be the defending champs. As a member of the team, I can declare we?re proud toilets.

Tomorrow we practice, and on Tuesday the games begin.

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