THOSE WHO LOVE THE GAME
Authorities in the field of human growth and motivation generally agree that one of the major ingredients for a long, fulfilling life is passion. Self-help expert Anthony Robbins, who has worked with major figures such as President Bill Clinton, entertainer Ben Vereen and tennis star Andre Agassi, ends most of his seminars with the catch phrase, "Live with passion!" Corny? Perhaps. Significant? Absolutely!
Robbins defines passion very simply. "Passion is what gets you up early and keeps you up late." Those who are passionate about something in their lives are definitely healthier, more productive and, most important, happier.
People can be passionate about many things. Books, art, the theater and yes, tennis. As a teaching professional, the students who I enjoy working with the most are the ones who clearly love the game. It doesn't matter how good they are, or aren't, the exciting thing is playing with someone who loves to be on the court and who plays with passion.
These are people who have made tennis an important part of their lives so, from time to time, I would like to introduce you to some of these individuals and dedicate the column to, "Those who love the game."
It's only appropriate that I begin a series of "THOSE WHO LOVE THE GAME" with a man who exemplifies the words "play with passion." A man who has been playing tennis for over 70 years and is without question........
THE GREATEST TENNIS PLAYER
IN NEW ENGLAND HISTORY
New England has produced some high profile tennis players over the past fifty years. World class professionals such as Tim Mayotte and Barbara Potter as well as many players who have received national recognition including former National Amateur Champion Jeff Landau and National 40 and over Champion Joe Bouquin.
Yet the greatest player in the history of New England tennis is a relatively unknown, eighty year old man from Westport named Steve Ogilvy. The undisputed king of New England tennis, Ogilvy has won more tournament matches than any player in New England history. In addition, he has earned a number one ranking 37 different times, and has been inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island!
I had the opportunity to meet Steve Ogilvy recently and, after we hit a few balls, we sat down to talk about tennis and the impact the game has had on his life.
At first glance, Ogilvy appears nothing like a champion athlete. Gray, slightly stooped over and moving with an octogenarian shuffle, Ogilvy appears to be the epitome of "grandfather."
However, when he steps onto a tennis court the years melt away and the athlete emerges. The grayness turns into a glow, the stooped over frame becomes erect and the shuffle is replaced by a brisk, confident stroll.
As Ogilvy begins to hit, his body loosens and his strokes become smoother. The sound of the ball coming off his racket is crisp and interrupted only by his constant reminder to himself to "watch the ball." It is soon apparent to anyone watching that they are witnessing someone very special doing something that he loves very much.
Born in New Rochelle, New York in the year 1916, Ogilvy was introduced to the game at the age of ten by his uncle, the great American tennis player Frank Hunter. Hunter won the Wimbeldon doubles championship with the legendary Bill Tilden in 1928 and was once ranked as high as number four in the world.
My grandfather", says Ogilvy, "was also a very avid player and had a court in his backyard so I'd go up there with some of my cousins and we'd play as often as we could".
"Being brought up during the depression years, money was extremely tight and at that time tennis lessons cost $2 an hour, making them financially impossible. So, we taught ourselves."
Ogilvy developed his own style, picking up things from his cousins and "stealing" the occasional lesson when possible. "We'd sneak behind trees and bushes at the public courts and clubs and watch teaching pros give lessons and try to pick up pointers that way," he remembers.
In his early years, ice hockey and basketball competed with tennis for Ogilvy's time but eventually his passion for the game led him to drop the other sports and focus strictly on tennis.
He competed in junior tournaments throughout the New York area but describes himself at that time as "not very good." Later, at Princeton University, he was a four year member of the tennis team yet terms his college tennis career largely unremarkable.
Ogilvy moved to Westport in 1939 and began to practice with former touring pro Martin Buxby who was the pro at the nearby Longshore Country Club. This is the time when Ogilvy believes his game began to "really improve."
"By the age of 35 I was a much better player than I was in college and at 45 I was ranked number 8 in the country in the 45 and over division. That's where it all really started."
Over the next 35 years Steve Ogilvy won more New England sanctioned matches than any player in history and was ranked number one in New England an astonishing 37 different times.
Remarkably, at one point he was also ranked number 3 in the Eastern Tennis Association's 35 and over division, at the age of 57! He won the Westport Town Championships 27 times in the 35 years he competed and was ranked as high as number 8 in the country in the men's 55 and over division.
Ogilvy has always played six days a week and been involved in tournaments virtually every weekend, frequently more than one. "Many times I would play 2 or 3 tournaments at once. I'd play one match drive 10 miles and play another. People thought I was a nut but I just loved it."
When not on the court Ogilvy, a veteran of World War II, started his own hearing aid business which today, at age 80, he is still running.
Mike Greenberg, a top local player from Weston, recalls on many occasions seeing Ogilvy arrive at the courts with two bags in hand, one containing his racket and tennis clothes and the other, his hearing aids.
"Ogilvy would play a match," recalls Greenberg, "and then quickly change clothes and go on to his next appointment. Sometimes he would do this two or three times a day."
Or, on a good day, he would conduct a little business after his match. "Many times I was able to nail somebody at the courts," remembers Ogilvy. "I'd give them a hearing test and fit them with a hearing aid right there."
"Today," comments Ogilvy with a smile, "business is quite good because my product is much more popular among those competing in the older age divisions."
At 6 feet tall and 162 pounds, Ogilvy has never been an imposing sight on the court. He would appear on court in his ever present T-shirt, sleeves slightly rolled up, shoulders hunched over, head down and feet slowly shuffling. An image that has inspired confidence in many an opponent. Temporary confidence.
Bill Schmid, one of New England's top senior players. remembers the first time he faced Ogilvy. "We were walking to the court and he was in front of me," said Schmid. "I'm walking behind this much older man who's hunched over, walking very slowly and I'm thinking to myself that this is going to be a piece of cake. A little over an hour later I came off the court having been thoroughly destroyed. Ogilvy chopped me up."
Tennis has always been an important part of Ogilvy's life and he
credits his wife of 54 years, Alicia, for much of his success. "Alicia always understood that when I played a tournament I would probably be involved for the entire weekend. She knew that the tennis was something that I loved and that made me happy and she always supported me."
Ogilvy has nine children and thirty grandchildren. All of his children play tennis and, at one point, Steve and son Peter were nationally ranked in the father/son division.
Recently, Ogilvy was awarded the highest honor accorded to a tennis player, induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame, New England Division, in Newport, Rhode Island.
"It was a tremendous event," he recalls. "Over 50 people came to Newport for the ceremony. All of my children and their spouses as well as many, many friends and fellow tennis players. It was very touching for me, not only for of the event, but more because of all the people that came."
Ogilvy enjoyed another honor last year when he had the opportunity to meet and have his picture taken with Bill Clinton when the President awarded the prizes at the 75 and 80 nationals in Arlington, Virginia.
What's left for the man who has done it all? Ogilvy's immediate goal will be to continue to play six days a week with an eye toward three national events later this year.
When asked how he would like to be remembered, Ogilvy quickly responds, "As a crazy nut who loved tennis and never called a ball wrong."
"When I was good, years ago," he says, "I was told by quite a few people that they had never seen a man look happier on a tennis court and they were right. We're all crazy about something and tennis was, and always will, be my mistress.
"There's an on-going joke around the seniors that we'd all like to die on the tennis court after hitting a great shot. I think there is an element of truth to this and, in fact, I actually played a fellow who did just that. He ran for a wide forehand, hit the shot, and promptly died.
"Earlier, his doctor had told him that he couldn't possibly live if he continued to play tennis. He smiled and said, 'that's o.k Doc. I want to play.' I understand his feelings perfectly, he loved the game!"
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This column is copyrighted by Greg Moran, all rights reserved.
Greg Moran is the Head Professional at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Connecticut. He is a former ranked junior and college player and certified by both the USPTA and USPTR. Greg has written on a wide variety of tennis-related subjects for numerous newspapers and tennis publications including Tennis, Tennis Match and Court Time magazines. He is also a member of the FILA and WILSON Advisory Staffs.
Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Greg by using this form.