Thursday is typically a full singles and doubles day of competition. But because the long-range weather forecast had been iffy, Steve Contardi decided to play it safe and begin match play on Monday, traditionally reserved for practice. We Dunnies, eliminated from the championship, were playing Emerson’s Wankers for an honorable Bronze Medal and had taken the lead Wednesday afternoon in the doubles. This morning, it’d be singles for some of us, and doubles for the rest. Shortly after 9 am, Mark Woodforde and Dick Stockton told me who my opponent would be: our trainer, Larry Starr, whom I’d beaten in an abbreviated eight-game pro set in 2018. Sweet!
Overcast, with no wind, the conditions were perfect and we gathered about 30 minutes later on a three-court cluster furthest from the main lodge. They’re some of the complex’s newest courts and preferable to the six-court configurations closer to the ranchhouse, where everyone’s balls are inevitably rolling through your service box at the most inopportune moment. Larry and I were on the middle court; to my right and left were two of my Sunday practice mates, Alabaman George Dreher and Dr. Brad Reese, my Tuesday doubles partner. I felt confident, and it showed.
My serve was biting and my forehand down the line working. Larry has legs like tree trunks — he runs marathons in Florida when he’s not playing tennis — but I was taking his serve early and never giving him a chance to get moving. I won 6-2, 6-2. George and Brad had equally pleasant experiences, leaving Wanker coach Brian Gottfried, who’d witnessed all three matches, shaking his head sadly. Our coach, Dick Stockton, was also shaking his head, seemingly in disbelief. “You played really well,” he told me, as if he could never have imagined speaking that sentence.
Our performance was mirrored by our teammates, and we easily flushed the Wankers, thus avoiding our recently habitual last place. Brother Joe, paired up with official greeter Marc Segan, took a win from veteran Marty Judge when his partner strained, pulled, or partially tore his Achilles and couldn’t continue. Because Joe and Marc were up 4-3 at the time, I consider that a big win. Most of the rest of the Dunnies fared as well.
Joe’s second big win of the week came at my expense a few hours later, after Contardi announced we would play a Fantasy Doubles exhibition with Gottfried and Murphy Jensen. The last time Brian and I had paired up, a few years ago, we’d beaten Murph and fellow West Sider (thought not yet a member then) Rob Delman. Having played with and against Rob many times since then, I’m pretty sure there won’t be a second time. But Joe’s not Rob, and I was feeling pretty confident after Brian, who really should be in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, held serve to start the set. That, however, was the last game we won. Joe was on fire, and Murphy was playing — well, serving anyway — as if it was the final of the French Open.
Before that, the contest for the championship had come down to a pair of singles matches between campers one would not have expected to determine the outcome. The Mongrels and the Musclemen had split all their matches through the morning, with just three left to play. One was over at Newk’s country club. The other two, side by side, on the show courts 5 and 6. On 6 were Professor Joe Lipsick, who I’d beaten 6-0, 6-0 earlier, and Colorado music director Tom Lich. On 5 were the twenty-something, Sam Segan, who’d taken Joe out in doubles, and Amir Behrozi, who’d done the same to me. Usually, the Legends Week titles are decided by the big hitters at the top of each team’s ladders. This was a bizzaro world scenario.
Lipsick, fighting valiantly, stuck close to his younger foe until 4-4 in the second set. Amir and Sam, on the court closest to the bleachers, had most of the camp watching (including three Segans and Amir’s father- and brother-in-law, the Charles Pasarells), enthralled. They went to a super-tiebreaker, and Amir, at 9-8, served for the match. A long rally ended with Amir’s topspin forehand landed so close to the line that Hawkeye would have been challenged. Sam called it out, then hesitated, walking towards the chairs for the changeover, saying softly, “I’m not sure” or something like that.
“It was out!” shouted someone with authority from the bleachers. The camp Hawkeye had been activated. Two points later, Sam and his Muscle Men had won the crown, and coach Owen Davidson, who rarely smiles, was giddy. For Owen Davidson.
But not as giddy as the Segans. Not only were they champs, they were doubly-crowned. Three of them had anchored the winning Boat Racers, including Sam (who, frankly, doesn’t look old enough to drink).
Every ritual ceremony ends with a prayer, and our Legends Week does too, after a fashion. The closing night begins with shrimp and lobster (dip) at happy hour, moves on to teriyaki salmon and chicken, and fudgy chocolate cake. There are bottles of pinot noir on the table. Dinner finished and plates cleared, Doc Eden recites his classic, “Railroad Tracks.”
The week’s awards are handed out team by team, and everyone gets a framed print of a photo taken on Monday, each of us surrounded by smiling Legends. Newk puts his crew through one last haka (not a war chant-cum-pantomime, Newk has sternly advised me), though the wallabee (not a stuffer marsupial, Newk has also sternly advised me) has been left in the storage closet.
Brother Joe makes a speech about the 2020 Laver Cup, coming to Boston where he lives. He seems to invite everyone there to join him for some kind of party. Good luck with that.
And then, all the Aussies in attendance (plus a couple of Puerto Ricans and at least one Manhattanite who are sitting at Newk’s table) are invited to come to the front of the room. Lyric sheets are placed at each table by Mario Contardi, heir to that throne. A microphone is handed to Roy Emerson, and without pause, he sings, in perfect pitch, “Oh there once was a swagman, camped in a billabong…”
We join in.
A couple of minutes, later, “…You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with meeeee!”
And, for all intents, the ritual is over for another 12 months. Amen.