Wednesday, September 16, 2015
10 S N E 1, or as first spoken in a play on the Broadway stage by the late Humphrey Bogart, “Tennis Anyone?”
In the midst of this year's U S Open Tennis Championships my mind drifted to my love affair with this great game. My span from 1948 to 2015 is one long haul. I have certainly enjoyed the trip, every minute of it.
There is always a lot of chatter about “enjoying playing”. Rightfully so. Dollars are one thing, but busting your chops for something that you really do not enjoy could make you certifiable. When a man or woman gets involved with tennis it becomes a habit for a lifetime, one that is very hard to break. Today's game is played at a level light years away from that of 1948. Equipment innovations have been breath-taking and the physical demands on players is well beyond anything dreamed of in yesteryear. Back then many a racketeer took to the courts with what can best be described as “discomfort”. This code word for excruciating headaches, a body's general revolt against running around smacking balls under a blistering sun were direct results of the “social” whirl that encompassed tennis. Cocktails the night before with partying till dawn were sure to be followed by more of the same after the last ball was struck. This country club mentality dominated the tennis world in the first half of the last century. But then time marched on.
I started out as a college tennis team manager, graduated to playing status and then embarked on a decades long career as a tennis official. The era I most enjoyed was when the U.S. Nationals were held at Forest Hills, NY, where the West Side Tennis Club hosted play on wonderful grass courts. The whole environment was conducive to good manners on the part of players, press and spectators. Plenty of fine memories (and a few bruises when calling the center service line because I couldn't move fast enough to dodge the blistering serve of Pancho Gonzales.) Walking the grounds between matches you could see, and talk to, the greats of the game – Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcomb, John McEnroe, dozens more.
My pal Brooks Keffer and I used to take the train from Philadelphia in the morning to officiate at the matches, eat and drink our weight in sumptuous buffet and a waterfall bar then return at the end of the day to the City of Brotherly Love. Tennis umpires were paid $8 a day. If we had that kind of dough back then we would have gladly paid the tournament many times over for those memorable hours in the sun.
The 2015 U.S. Tennis Open will long be remembered for many things, most especially for the upset of Serena William, perhaps the greatest of all sports champions. But memorable as well for unprecedented player injuries and a record-breaking number of smashed rackets.
Trust me, Serena will be back. Not so the rackets.