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The Old Guys
by Tony Severino
PTR Certified Instructor 4A

Tony Serverino Photo
Tony Severino

Here at the Lakeside Tennis Club there is a Senior Round Robin every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. Play usually starts around 8am, always doubles. Some get there earlier to get into the first foursome.

It's nice because you can come almost any time before ten and still get to play. And if you can't come it's not a problem. They play year round, so in winter you see some novel ways to keep the hands warm; golf gloves, of course, woolens, chemical hand warmers, knitted sleeves to cover the racquet hand; there's always something new. If it snowed you bring a broom or a shovel. If it rained the daily newspapers are by far the best way to sop up the puddles. But summer or winter they enjoy playing what Peter Burwash calls "Tennis for Life."

They're called "The Old Guys" because ages start, with few exceptions, at seventy and top out around 87 (so far). Several women play regularly in the group as well. They ask no quarter; they need none. Bad knees are epidemic and maturing cataracts common. Nonetheless the level of play is still around the 3.5 level from players who used to have NTRP ratings much higher.

Changeovers are somewhat longer than standard. It's known as "The Senior Stall." There are times - frequently - when no one remembers the score. It gets sorted out.

Often there are enough foursomes to fill four courts. One set is played, and then those waiting come on. Cards are drawn to see who stays if there are unfilled spots. When someone is waiting, tie-breaks are played at Five-All.

Actually, each one could write his/her own tennis story borrowing the title from one of the tennis greats.

Let's meet some of "the old guys'!

What's that? You heard someone shout "YOU BUM!"? Not to worry; that was Fred. He can be hard on himself when he misses an easy shot. Commuters on a passing train can hear him. Some days he's a bum more times than others but that's tennis. You know, Self One versus Self Two. His book: "The Inner Game of Tennis" (Timothy Gallwey).

Magical Marv is a magician who also reads minds. If you are up at net, he lofts a lob - one foot inside the baseline. If you are back he drops it over the net - magic. Nothing Marv hits goes more than 30 miles per hour - serves, forehand, backhand - living testimony to the Dennis Van der Meer principle: "Ball control trumps power every time." Fun to watch; challenging to play against. For him: "Mental Tennis" (Vic Braden & Robert Wool).

Courtney is corporate vice president. Believe it. His first serve hits the back screen on the rise. He poops in the second serve and gets murdered. Corporate VP, right? Smart enough to figure it out, right? This has been the pattern for ten long years! His book, "My Aces, My Faults" (Nick Bollettieri and Dick Schapp). Not many of the first; lots of the latter.

Maria could join the "Red Hat Society," but she prefers tennis activities more. She is very feminine and attractive enough to be a senior fashion model, an older version of the Russian Maria, currently Wimbledon Champ. She's been through the Bollettieri, Van der Meer and Braden courses so don't make the mistake of trying to rally with her too long. She hits hard and accurate like the younger Maria but foregoes that artificial fist pump at the end. A satisfied smile works just fine for her. "Tennis For Winners" (Robert Jordan).

Tom Terrific is being taught to "take the net" by a self-ordained tennis instructor. He makes a kamikaze charge at the net on every service return. Bonsai! Tom wasn't taught to stop and split step before volleying. The ball usually careens off Tom's frame as he charges forward, and onto an adjacent court. Luckily, Tom hasn't committed tennis hara kiri, yet. His "instructor" was affronted when I suggested there might be a better way to do that. Their book: "Extraordinary Tennis for the Ordinary Player" (Simon Ramo).

"Coach" is a former All-American and college tennis coach. At age 82 he has concrete knees. Nowadays he stations himself in one place on the court and hits everything within reach - which isn't very far - whether in or out. He is a respected teacher of the game and still hits decent ground strokes from either side. If you want to talk tennis theory and teaching technique, "Coach" is the man to see. He too has a deadly drop shot.

It's fun to rally with him, challenging and enjoyable. Sixty year old Kip finds it necessary to drop shot "Coach" at every opportunity. Brad Gilbert properly provided Kip's title: "Winning Ugly."

"Coach" is a great teacher on the court and even better "Off the Court" (Arthur Ashe).

"Watch the Alley!" says Nagging Newt."

"I'm watching it!" comes the answer. "Maria just nailed a forehand there."

Newt doesn't like the answer. He tries again.

"Watch the lob!"

"I will! Their lobs are something to behold."

Newt shakes his head. You just can't get good help nowadays. Stan Smith said it. The secret to winning doubles is having a good partner. Nagging Newt would like to treat his partners to a "Tennis Clinic" (Dennis Van der Meer and Murray Olderman).

"Swoosh!" Swinging Sam swings and misses. He has eye problems and swooshes often. On a hot day it can have a cooling effect if you're his partner. But when he's on, he's on. Sam has developed an effective cross-court volley drop shot so he's not over the hill yet. For him it's "Too Soon To Panic" (Gordon Forbes).

Ole Jim is 87 and plays like a man of 50. He still uses a vintage Wilson Championship, Jack Kramer model. The wooden frame looks tiny but he uses it effectively. He gets many offers of kindred wooden frames still decorating members' closets, but he has about seven in his own. He figures that should do him. After a life time of tennis tournaments and championship trophies, for Jim it's "A Tennis Memoir" (Don Budge).

Sweet Liz is a graying, little ole granny type, frail of frame and with a que-tip hairdo, and very attractive. But be ready, the ball is coming back no matter how hard you hit it or where - and at an incredible angle with pace.

A word to the wise: be wary of grey-haired little old ladies with a kindly smile and a tennis racquet in hand. Sweet Liz is not the only one, but if you're looking for a great doubles partner, choose Sweet Liz. Her book: "The Art of Doubles" (Pat Blaskower).

Steady Eddie is always ready to play, every day. He has a frying pan grip and hits everything with an overhand hammer-the-nail stroke. He even stoops to hit waist-high volleys the same way. Style points are zero, but it gets the job done, usually. Eddie owns one of the few pairs of good knees in the round robin so he scoots around the court pretty well and honestly wears the title, "Court Hustler" (Bobby Riggs).

Slick Rick can spin in a drop shot from anywhere on the court. It looks like a drive until you realize it's about to take a second bounce - way up there near the net. Rick's borrowed title, "Match Play and the Spin of the Ball" (Bill Tilden).

Lobbing Lou is a born again lobber. Every ball Lou hits clears the net by twenty feet or more, and that's his drive: top speed, 40 mph. He lives by the Fred Perry axiom: "Get the ball back; sometimes good things happen." Lou's offering: "Tennis Styles and Stylists" (Paul Metzler).

Bashing Bob prides himself on his once powerful forehand which nowadays, often as not, rebounds off the back screen. He drives it right at the net person. His theory seems to be "if you can't beat them, hurt one of them." His other "go to" shot is a drop shot serve which works surprisingly well since his normal first serve can be received inside the baseline. It must be the element of surprise. Different strokes for different blokes. Bashing Bob is all "Pressure Tennis" (Paul Wardlaw).

Dour Don used to be a racquet flinger and, of course, with a disposition to match. At 85 I guess it's allowable. If you stayed alert and remembered your old Dodge Ball moves you were reasonably safe. Lately he just bangs his racquet down onto the court Marat Safin style. Each of the other players on court in sequence does the same. Dour Don pretends not to notice. He mumbles something inaudible and lumbers back to his spot. He has concrete ankles so you can drop shot Dour Don ad nauseam, if that's your style. Dour Don would like to know "How to Play Better Tennis" (Bill Tilden).

Angelo is a world traveler. He is pushing 90, but not very hard. He can still motor around the court like a young man. Trouble is, between points Angelo wants to tell you about that wonderful tavern on the Via Flavia in Rome, Italy. The server waits patiently across the net. A polite acknowledgement and gesture toward the server gets things going again - until next point. Changeovers bring on a geography lesson, like it or not. Before the next point, the Taverna Flavia menu is reprised. Somehow we get through the game, if not edified at least educated. With Angelo the book is "Play Better Tennis In Two Hours" (Oscar Wegner).

So these are the "Old Guys," enjoying their golden years playing tennis, and it's great. Each one playing at different "Levels of the Game" (John McPhee), but enjoying it fully. Funny how soon it all passes. To paraphrase South African tennis star Gordon Forbes, when you look back down the years at all the warm memorable moments of your life, you'll find with surprise they can all be squeezed into "a head full of thoughts and 'A Handful of Summers'" (Gordon Forbes).

So that's the news from the Lakeside Tennis Club where all the women are 4.0, all the men have drop shots, and all the juniors use Western grips!


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