Given the damp, raw mornings and afternoons of the 2018 Legends Week, this year’s version has been a true gift, weatherwise. But last year’s gloom curtailed the amount of court time we all got, and that was another gift…to our aging bodies. Sun, temperatures in the eighties … not so much it turns out.
The trainers’ gazebo began to look like a MASH unit by Tuesday afternoon, with campers requesting ice wraps on knees, elbows and shoulders. One of us, veteran Mike Quinn, had both shoulders and both knees encased in plastic freeze bags. If you saw him out on Halloween Night, you’d run in the opposite direction. Even assistant trainer Jason Palmateer was a member of the walking wounded, his right calf bandaged to the knee as the result of what he diagnosed as a torn calf (well, he called it something else in medicalese, but it sure looked and sounded like a torn calf). I actually was feeling pretty good, having had our other assistant trainer manipulate my cranky left shoulder, which hasn’t been right for 22 years, since I went out in surf in Maui that was bigger than I was prepared for. Crystal, the trainer, said she’d never seen anything like it. “Bone on bone,” she announced happily as she pulled my arm back and forth. “Can you hear it? Amazing.” I was pleased to make her day. I guess.
At lunch, I realized — once again, I might add — how lucky I am. Camper Tom Sansonetti joined Roy Emerson, myself, and a couple of other campers at one of the round dining room tables. Tom, it turned out, was serving as an unofficial assistant to Roy and was describing a singles match. At first I assumed he was talking about his match. But the large scars on both knees corrected that impression. He told us, at Roy’s prompting, that he’d had both knees replaced recently, and the most recent operation had gone wrong when sceptococcis — I actually have no idea if that’s the correct spelling — set in. The knee had to be removed, replaced by a soup can-like device full of antibiotics, the leg immobilized for eight weeks, and finally a replacement put in. Then, a few weeks ago, more infection set in, and Tom was back in the hospital. Today, he said he felt well enough to hit some balls in the afternoon. “But I’m not doing any running,” he added. Roy nodded in full agreement.
I missed the morning clinic with the Jensen boys, Luke and Murphy, on doubles strategy, but fortunately fellow blogger George Wachtel didn’t. So I was able to learn that the Jensens had emphasized communication between partners as being one of the keys to doubles success. Most of my doubles these days is with my wife Lesley Silvester, and I like to think that talking has worked well for our partnership. “You!” “Up!” “Out!” “Get it!” “What?” are all cornerstones of our doubles play.
But doubles would wait because the day began with our singles (and doubles for those who were avoiding the singles court this week) against Newk’s Mongrel Kangaroos. We Dunnies had finished the previous day in a somewhat miraculous 7-7 tie, and were feeling pretty good about ourselves. The weather was perfect, the winds light, the sun bright, low eighties. And my opponent, Stanford University professor and the head of one of the country’s (if not the world’s) preeminent cancer cell research laboratories Joe Lipsick, was one I’d been hoping to play against. Joe had first come to Legends Week about four years ago, and we’d spent some time together, though not on the court. He’d told me that the reason he’d signed up was a result of reading my blog, which was fantastic, but bordering on the unbelievable. Joe had been in New York this past Spring, and had come out to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, where I’m a member, to have his first experience playing on the grass. He loved it, in no small part because he and his doubles partner, one of the club pros, had beaten me and Rob Delman, a West Side member who has been coming to Legends Week for many years. Joe, I know, expected a close match. So did I.
We were assigned to go to one of the four Har-Tru courts, a surface Joe told me he also rarely plays on. “The courts at Stanford are for the students,” he said, “and they all want to play on hard. It’s what they grew up on, and what our team plays its matches on.” He allowed there were a couple of private clay courts around Palo Alto, but he hadn’t been invited to them. And, as it turned out, his hard-court game did not translate as well to the soft dirt as it did a few months earlier to the grass. We had a couple of close games, but I won all of them. When Dick Stockton heard the score, his only comment was, “There goes your chance for the Sportsmanship Award.” (Professor Lipsick, for the record, won his next match in the afternoon and at the bar for happy hour, told me and others that the lessons he learned in the morning made a difference. So awards judges, please take note.)
The morning matches broke the tie, as it seems always, in the favor of the Mongrels, who claimed a 17-14 victory. After lunch we began our second round, versus the Muscle Men (named in honor of Ken “Muscles” Rosewall, who was a regular at the first 10 Legends Weeks). The Muscles are coached by Owen Davidson, Ross Case, Johan Kriek and Murphy Jensen, a formidable crew. And all of them, and all of us, were courtside by the end of my doubles match. Partnering with newcomer Bradley Reese, an eye/ear/nose/throat specialist with a big serve, big forehand and big helping of inconsistency, we faced another medical professional, dentist Jay Friedman and his rookie partner, Vancouver investor Tim Kerr. The Muscles duo jumped to a 4-1 lead, we clawed back to 4-4, but lost the next two games. It looked just as grim for us in the second set until, down 4-2, we made another move using some reasonably sophisticated doubles strategies, principally the Australian formation with both server and net man on the same side of the court. Brad had never played that way before. Indeed, he had rarely ever played doubles before, sharing that tidbit late in the first set. It worked and we won the second, and played a 10-point tiebreaker to settle the outcome. Again we fought back from an early deficit, took the lead, had two match points on my serve and … never mind.
As happy hour began, the Dunnies found themselves trailing the Muscle Men, too. I was bummed but Brad seemed really happy. “That was an incredible match!” he announced repeatedly through dinner. “I learned so much!” Also trailing are the Wankers, so there’s hope that at least one team is beatable. For us, I mean. Obviously.
After dinner, Newk and camper Ned Dorman shared the tale of their sitting in the Royal Box for this year’s Wimbledon Final. Right in from of them were William and Kate, and for a short time they were the only ones there. Their recollections diverge on a number of points, including whether Ned jabbed the heir to the throne to get his attention, or accidentally grazed his back (Newk believes the SAS snipers assigned for protection had already locked and loaded), but a conversation ensued.
The breaking news is that Kate can beat William. “Because,” she allegedly told our Legends Week duo, “I get every ball back.”