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Friday, 30 January 2015


There are a lot of things that are called “individual” sports. Technically I guess activities like darts, bowling, pool, and archery are considered sports but they seem more like games to me. Actually, when you think about it, you don’t have to be physically fit to excel at golf.
Most competitive individual sports only take a few minutes although years may have gone into training for the event. Sports like speed skating, figure skating, swimming, and skiing. Boxing can lead to brain damage. Marathon running and triathlons are two sports that probably have the most sustained wear and tear on the human body.
The widest audiences for individual sports are golf and tennis. Although golf involves psychological stress, for professionals that stress doesn’t compare to what the best tennis players in the world have to endure. Golfers have lots of time to figure out what their next move will be. They may be competing with others for a golf title but they don’t have a lone opponent staring at them consistently for 3 hours.
A tennis match between men can often last over 3 hours with just a few short rest breaks. If the match is played in the bright sun it can be totally exhausting. Concentrating for such a long period of time is a difficult thing to do. It is a natural thing for a mind to wander under extreme pressure. Doubt can sometimes creep in and everyone sees it.
In golf the spectators are often a fair distance away from the players and conversations happen between the golfer and the caddie in private. Golf spectators have other distractions like admiring the beauty of the golf course. In tennis the audience is totally locked in on the players. Vicariously they feel what the players feel and they know pretty quickly which player is frustrated and trying to keep it all together. You can see a lot in a player’s eyes. There is no place for the players to hide. The TV cameras, the fans in the stands, and often millions watching at home can see every nuance of the game of tennis. In golf the TV cameras skip from one foursome to another.
In some ways professional tennis is like watching gladiators.
My personal opinion is that professional men’s tennis and professional women’s tennis are not that comparable. There is a big difference between having to win 3 sets verses 2 sets.

I was about 5 years old when I first saw someone with a tennis racket. We had just moved from an apartment to a flat on Harvard Avenue in Montreal. It was 1952 I think. A couple of Dutch teenagers who lived near the corner of the street were out on the road hitting a tennis ball back and forth. It seemed like a fun thing to do. A little further down the street there were a couple of German kids who wore lederhosen that had scooters. Not homemade scooters but real scooters. I wanted one of those.
There was a small hallway at the top of the stairs at our place that lead to a small bedroom in the front of the building. There was also a closet in that short hallway. I think I was about 8 when I discovered the mysteries within. A couple of old epees (fencing swords), a banjo, my mother’s old ballet slippers, and a wooden tennis racket were some of the treasures I found. The wooden tennis racket also had a wooden bracket kind of thing with nuts and bolts. This contraption was to keep the face of the racket true.
A few blocks away there were some public tennis courts on Hampton Avenue. I think there were about 8 courts. One day I took the old wooden racket over to the courts and another kid and I took turns swinging that racket while the other one of us threw a tennis ball. The racket didn’t make it back home in the same shape it was when I left home with it.
When I was 16 or 17 I got into a bit of a scrap near my house with a guy who almost ran me over with his bike. His name was Tommy Gavin and he made daily trips back and forth on his bike to the Monkland Tennis Club that was a few blocks away. After the scrap he approached me a few days later and we buried the hatchet. It turned out that Tommy was a pretty decent tennis player. He often partnered in doubles with a guy named Pierre Lamarche who was involved with Canadian tennis for decades.
Back then tennis didn’t get a lot of coverage in the local Montreal newspapers. The big names in men’s tennis were mostly Australians. Players like John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Fred Stolle, and Tony Roche. American Pancho Gonzales also got some press.
Rod Laver
Up until 1968 only amateurs could compete in the Grand Slam events. The best players in the world had sponsors (often rich folks from their tennis club) which afforded them a decent living. These players also picked up money by playing “exhibition” games at tennis clubs around the world.
It was around 1964 that the Aussies turned up at the Monkland Tennis Club along with their manager Harry Hopman who had been an accomplished tennis player in his own right. It was pretty big news in the community of NDG at the time.
I knew a guy in high school whose divorced mom spent a fair amount of time at Monkland Tennis Club. It seemed that she might have been looking for a new husband. One night we spotted her in the lobby of her apartment building in her fur coat making out with some guy. It kind of freaked us out a bit.
For a short while back then I hung out with a guy named Jeff (Geoff?) Carpenter. He was a tall lanky guy who liked to comb his hair to a point at the front of his head. I got drunk with him a few times. His two older brothers Keith and Michael were world class tennis players. Keith was the more successful of the two. They also played doubles together and won The Canadian Doubles Championship in 1966 in Vancouver.
When tennis turned “professional” in 1968 it started to get more coverage on American TV. The new era is sometimes called “The Open Era”. For the first few years the Grand Slam events (The US Open, The French Open, The Australian Open, and Wimbeldon) men’s singles matches were dominated mostly by the Aussies. American television networks wanted to see a star male American player emerge so the game could more easily be sold to their audience.
Arthur Ashe, a black guy, was the first American star tennis player of the new era. He won the US Open in 1968, The Australian Open in 1970, and Wimbledon in 1975. Ashe was a pleasant guy but kind of low key. Tennis kind of has a history of being a sport favoured by the wealthy. There are no bartenders by basketball courts. A lot of the well to do who belonged to private tennis clubs wanted to see a bonafide white American male star.
Arthur Ashe
Stan Smith fit the bill when he won The US Open in 1971 and Wimbledon in 1972 but he kind of fizzled out.
Over on the ladies side the big names were Aussie Margaret Court and American Billie Jean King. King’s brother Randy Moffitt was a major league baseball pitcher for 12 years. In 1973 retired tennis pro Bobby Riggs challenged King to a match. King was 29 at the time and had won 3 of the 4 women’s singles grand slams the year before. Riggs was 55 and was a life-long hustler.
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs
The event was a winner take all deal ($100,000.00) and was called “The Battle of the Sexes”. King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Hardly anyone remembers that Riggs beat Margaret Court 6-2, 6-1 four months earlier. Before the match King was carried out on a throne by musclemen and Riggs turned up in a rickshaw pulled by some scantily covered ladies. Riggs gave King a big lollipop and King gave Riggs a baby pig to symbolize his chauvinism. The whole thing was pretty hokey.
In the spring of 1973 I was staying in a waterfront house in a toney area of Victoria, BC called Gordon Head. A girlfriend of a friend of mine at the time was house-sitting for a number of months. I was kind of at loose ends but that would change when I went off to do some tree planting in Northern BC.
One day I noticed a couple of tennis rackets in the house. For some reason tennis was a game that I had always wanted to learn to play. I bought a can of tennis balls and took one of the tennis rackets over to the nearby University of Victoria campus. I found a building where a few other people were hitting tennis balls against a wall. Perfect! I got into a routine of spending about an hour or so hitting tennis balls against the wall each day for about 5-6 days. Forehand, backhand, forehand, backhand.
Then I went and found a public tennis court and practiced my serve. I got the hang of it pretty fast but I only had 3 tennis balls so I would have to go and pick them up before I could practice my serve again. I can’t for the life of me remember who I actually played my first game of tennis with. I know I was about 25 or 26 years old when I did. I was a little bit of a late bloomer when it came to the game of tennis. It was probably with some stranger who I met on a public court.
I went and bought my own racket. It had a wooden frame. I wouldn’t have been a very good house guest if I walked off with one of the owner’s rackets. None of the people I knew in Victoria at the time played tennis. Sometimes I would just turn up at a public court and look for someone to play with. Sometimes someone would ask me to play a game when they saw I was alone and practicing my serve. I started to get the hang of the game a bit.
I left Victoria for about a month to plant trees in northern BC and when I got back I was keen to play some more tennis. Back then I knew a guy who was a friend of a friend and he lived in Port Alberni. His name was Fred and his wife’s name was Trixie. You don’t meet a lot of Trixies in life. Fred was a tennis player. How I found that out I can’t recall. One bright sunny summer’s day I was up in Port Alberni and Fred and I played  tennis for about 4 hours. We were pretty close in our abilities. All these years later I remember that day playing tennis. I don’t think I ever got any better at the game as the years went by. I was young and mobile and loved the intensity.
Tennis was always an every now and then thing for me. It isn’t like riding a bike. Leave the game alone for a while and it takes a bit of time to get back in sync. If you don’t belong to a tennis club it isn’t that easy to find someone to play with. Between 1973 and 1980 I probably played the game no more than 8 times a year. I lived in North Vancouver for a number of years and discovered some public courts in Cates Park in the Deep Cove area. Usually one of those courts was empty and for a while I had a regular Sunday morning match with a guy named Barry who worked at the same place I did.
I knew that I wasn’t a stud at tennis but I thought I was half way decent. One night I ran into some ex-Montrealers in a disco called Annabelle’s in Vancouver. One of them was a guy named Artie Thomas and I think another was a guy named Graham Slater. The subject of tennis came up and Graham (if that’s who he was) and I made a date to play tennis the next day in West Vancouver. The long and the short of it is that Graham wiped me on the courts. He was a much better athlete than I was. I was about 30 at the time.
I’ve never really been a physical fitness kind of person. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors hiking so maybe that counts for something. I was 48 before I ever went to a gym. I remember when I first realized that I didn’t have the same fitness that I did when I was younger. It was while playing softball for a company I worked for when I was about 30 years of age. I realized that I could no longer track a fly ball in the outfield, something that would have been easy for me years before. Ah well. At least I had company.

Jimmy Connors won 3 Grand Slams in 1974. It isn’t often talked about but to some Americans he was their first “great white hope”. Not only was he all of that but he was hooked up with American female tennis star Chrissie Evert. For a period of about 10 years starting around 1974 there were 4 players that were the big draws in men’s singles tennis, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and Ilie Nastase. My favourite was Borg. Nastase was a bit of a freak at times. He was a great player but he could lose his temper and he often liked to clown around on the court.
Jimmy Connors
Bjorn Borg
I couldn’t stand McEnroe. His nick name was “the brat” for good reason. He treated some umpires like dirt and came across as a bully. There were a few times that it looked like he might get into a scrap with Jimmy Connors for delaying games. He seemed to back off when Connors stared him down. I think he knew if he threatened Connors that Connors would have been up for beating the shit out of him. On center court!

John McEnroe
Not that tennis isn’t great today, it is, but it some ways those 10 years were kind of tennis’s golden age, similar to the years that Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player ruled the golf links.
In 1984 I got to see Borg and McEnroe play a match live at BC Place in Vancouver. McEnroe was 25 at the time and Borg was 27. Borg had retired a year or so earlier. They hung a big curtain in the middle of BC Place so the building wouldn’t look so empty. 12,500 tennis fans turned up. McEnroe won 6-3,-6-4, 3-6, 6-1. I still think he is a prick.
Here are some of the pictures I took back then…..before digital and a little fuzzy.

McEnroe whining.

Men’s Singles Tennis

There has been a lot of great tennis played in the last 40 years. It seems that taller players now mostly dominate smaller players no matter how fast the smaller player is. Longer arms mean more court coverage and a more powerful trajectory on the serve.
In the 1950s and 1960s men’s tennis was dominated by the Australians. That dominance ended in the early 1970s and although there have been some decent Aussie tennis players since like Pat Cash, Patrick Rafter, and Lleyton Hewitt although none of them could be considered among the greats in the sport.
The Americans had a good run at the Grand Slams from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s with players like Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors.. Between 1990 and 2003 twenty-six Grand Slams were won by American meb including Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras. In my opinion Sampras was the 2nd best male tennis player of all time. An American male tennis player hasn’t won a Grand Slam in over 10 years now. The last one was Andy Roddick in 2003. Current men’s tennis rankings indicate that the best US men’s player is John Isner. Who? He’s ranked 21st in the world.
Andre Agassi with hair.

Pete Sampras

The Swedes have produced some great male tennis players. In a span of only 5 years Bjorn Borg won 8 Grand Slams. Between 1982 and 1992 Mats Wilander and Stephan Edberg won 11 Grand Slams between them. In 1988 these 2 guys won all of the Grand Slams.

Mats Wilander
The best Czech tennis player ever has to be Ivan Lendl. He won 8 Grand Slams. German Boris Becker won 5. Every once in a while there has been a surprise winner of a men’s singles Grand Slam. American Michael Chang was one of them winning The French Open in 1989. Argentinian Guillermo Vilas won back to back Wimbledon trophies in 1978 and

Boris Becker

Ivan Lendl
In the last few years Spain’s Raphael Nadal has had a good run. Although he’s only 28 it looks like his injuries catching up to him. Yesterday he lost in 3 straight sets, one of them 6-0. Altogether Nadal has won 14 Grand Slams.

Raphael Nadal
To many the best tennis player of all time is Switzerland’s Roger Federer. I would agree. Altogether he has won 17 Grand Slams. He is now nearing the end of his career but he’s still ranked 2nd in the world. Another Swiss, Stan Wawrinka is ranked 4th. It would be hard not to like a guy like Federer. He has always been a classy guy.

Roger Federer
The best male tennis player in the world right now is Serbian Novak Djokovic. He is one of the best ball returners in the history of the sport and has very few if any weaknesses in his game. One of his best assets is his ability to respond well to adversity. So far he has won 7 Grand Slams. He is only 27 and may very well end up as one of the top 3 best tennis players of all time. At this writing he will be playing Englishman Andy Murray in the men’s singles finals of the 2015 Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic
Women’s Singles Tennis
Australian Margaret Court was a dominating force in womens’s singles tennis for about 13 years starting in 1960. Altogether she won 22 Grand Slams. In 1970 she won all 4 of them. She is arguably the best women tennis player of all time. After Court retired Fellow Aussie Evonne Goolagong won the next 3 Australian Opens.

Margaret Court
American Billy Jean King won her first Grand Slam in 1966. She was kind of part of 2 eras in women’s tennis, the Margaret Court era and the era of Chris Evert, Monica Seles, and Martina Navratilova. Chris Evert won 18 Grand Slams as did Navratilova. Seles won 9.

Billie Jean King
Chris Evert
In 1987 German Steffi Graf won her first of 22 Grand Slams. She is my personal all-time favourite woman tennis player. She might also be the best woman to ever play the game, her or Margaret Court.

Steffi Graf
From the year 1999 until now there have been 3 ladies who have dominated women’s tennis, the two American Williams sisters Venus and Serena and Russian Maria Sharapova. Venus Williams has won 18 Grand Slams, her sister Serena has won 7, and Sharapova has won 5.

Serena and Venus Williams
Maria Sharapova
Doubles Tennis

For some reason there are some tennis players who are better at playing doubles than they are at playing singles. A lot of star tennis players won’t play in doubles matches because they don’t want the distraction from their singles game. Doubles may be a lot of fun to watch but most people who watch tennis can’t recall who won what doubles match and when.
Canadian Tennis
Currently Montrealer Eugenie Bouchard is ranked 7th in the world in women’s tennis. Apparently she and her twin sister Beatrice were named after the UK’s Prince Andrew’s kids. Bouchard has reached the quarter finals in several Grand Slams in the past 2 years. She doesn’t seem to have an overpowering serve but is very good at making quick and accurate shot selections. She is only 20 years old and seems to get a bit nervous when she is playing the best of the best. Bouchard comes from a well-to-do family but could very well make millions on her own through her tennis and endorsements. In my opinion she is the prettiest looking woman on the tennis circuit.

Eugenie Bouchard
Milos Raonic is currently ranked 8th in the world in men’s singles tennis. He is from Thornhill, Ontario. He was born in Yugoslavia and his parents immigrated to Canada. At 6’5” he is a pretty imposing figure on the courts. He has one of the most powerful and accurate serves in the game. He covers a lot of ground with his reach. He’s pretty nimble for a big man. Raonic is only 24 and keeps improving his game. In the next few years he may become the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam.

Milos Roanic
Bouchard and Raonic may be the current big names in Canadian tennis but neither has won a Grand Slam. Doubles player Daniel Nestor has won 7 Grand Slams and Vasek Pospisil 1. In professional tennis doubles players often have partners from other countries. At one point Pospisil’s doubles partner was a young Milos Raonic.

Daniel Nestor on right
Mary Pierce was born in Montreal to American/French parents. She won 2 Grand Slam titles representing France. Some other notable Canadian professional tennis players were Carling Bassett, Helen Kelesi, Glen Michibata, Grant Connell, Phillip Bester, Greg Rusedski, and Simon Larose. Alexandra Wozniak was named Canadian female tennis player of the year 5 times.

In 1993 my ex wife and I went on a winter vacation to a Club Med in Ixtapa Mexico. The club offered a number of different activities. My ex chose the trapeze and I chose tennis. The tennis pro was supposedly a bit of a drunk and was from Alaska of all places. At the end of the week they had a tennis tournament. It was about 10 a.m. in the morning and I was matched up against a 14 year old. I was 45. It was hotter than hell out and there was no shade on or near the court. I was doing OK in games won but after about an hour I had to pack it in. The idea of being dragged off to some Mexican hospital with heat stroke sealed the deal for me.
In 1995 I split up with my ex. I knew I was going to have to adapt to a different lifestyle. It was also a chance to pursue some things I was interested in. I joined a sailing club and a tennis club. I was 48 years old at the time.
The tennis club I joined was The Richmond Tennis Club which was in the area where I was living at the time. I can’t remember if the club had 8 or 9 courts. A few of them were covered in the winter months by a big rubber tent. Not long after I joined they tore down the old clubhouse and built a new 2 story one. The hot shot younger players, some in their thirties and forties, almost always played in the court right in front of the clubhouse. They kind of had a little exclusive group and didn’t often play with those with lesser abilities.

Twice a week 3 hours were set aside for “social tennis” which was generally doubles play. Most of the folks who turned up for this event were on the older side. There were the regulars and there were some others who would just show up every now and then. Leg and arm braces weren’t uncommon. Ladies and men played but it was mostly men. We would write our names down on a chalk board and once there was a group of four we’d all go over to a court and play. Some had particular people they wanted to play with or not play with. Some would start a new list of four if they didn’t see someone they wanted to play with.
One guy, I think he was a lawyer named Gary, had the strangest looking serve I’ve ever seen. He kind of served from his shoulder and not above his head. A few of the older guys (in their sixties) were quite proficient at dink shots with back spins. One of them in particular thought it was hilarious when the ball returner on the other side of the net would race (slow run) to hit the ball only to find the ball moving back towards the net. A person could break an ankle or something trying to get to those balls.
My son was a pretty decent athlete and when he was around 10 I enrolled him in the junior program at the club. I thought that if he started playing tennis relatively early in life he could enjoy the game for the rest of his life. There used to be a tiny store at the south end of Granville Street in Vancouver that was crammed with tennis gear. I took my son there and bought him a really nice racket. It was to no avail.  It didn’t take long to realize that he had little interest in the sport and I wasn’t going to try and force him to try and like it.
I brought a guest a few times to play at the club. I never entered any of the tournaments. After 3 years I pulled the pin and have hardly touched a racket since. I tried to teach the game to Linda a few times years ago but it was uncomfortable as she wasn’t that interested. It’s was kind of weird trying to show someone how to play when my own timing was off from being away from tennis for so long. As I said before… isn’t like riding a bike.
I haven’t missed watching many of the Grand Slams over the past 40 years. I would stay up late or get up really early when they were played in Australia, France or England. (Breakfast at Wimbledon). In my opinion the game is as good as it ever was. And I do know that Andy Murray didn’t get that girlfriend he has because of his looks. What’s up with male tennis stars and models anyway?


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