Gardnar Mulloy at 95—2008

Maybe he looked like this when he taught me to play tennis in 1953

Tuning into the Tennis Channel, I saw an old man being interviewed. Turned out he is 98, was a doubles champion, and he taught me to play tennis at a clinic when I was 11 and 12 years old. I actually won the clinic’s first place and runner-up those two years. Wish I had stayed with the sport, but dropped it for…who knows why?

Gardnar Mulloy (born November 22, 1913) is primarily known for playing in doubles matches with partner Billy Talbert. The pair won the U.S. men’s doubles title in 1942, 1945, 1946, and 1948. He also won the Wimbledon doubles with Budge Patty in 1957 at age 44. Mulloy was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972. He won over 127 national championships and 25 international titles in over 75 years of playing and achieved #1 U.S. singles ranking in 1942

What was most poignant was hearing him say, “I’d like to play, but all I can do is sit against the wall and fall down.” It reminds me of when my father was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and yelled out one day, “Throw the damn thing out. All it does is sit around all day and do nothing.” Of course he was referring to himself.

My father and I saw Gardnar again around 1994, when we visited Miami’s Fisher Island, where Mulloy was running the tennis club. Astonished to bump into him after 50+ years, I told him about our earlier connection. I also spoke to Pete Sampras, who was practicing serves just prior to the Sony Ericsson tournament only a few miles away.

Growing so old—or becoming so infirm—that you can’t play tennis is a sorry state. I am not looking forward to it, and am playing as much as I can, while I can. The other day was a sad moment. I had just been invited to join a threesome that had lost a long-time fourth who had moved away. It was a strong group that I had subbed in last year. After a game and a half during the first time we all played, one of the players took a break, said he had twisted his leg a bit. But he then decided that he couldn’t continue and apologized for disappointing us. No big deal. We played round-robin singles.

But later in the week, I heard that the fellow who had dropped out was through with tennis forever. He was hanging up his racket. Not worth risking a major injury that could cripple him. Wow. There is a real finality about that decision. A bit scary for me to know that the odds of playing tennis into my 80’s and 90’s are low. Yet I’d like to keep on going. Friends describe with envy and admiration their buddies who died on the court.

Whatever happens to me, I will keep on pushing and staying in shape. I may not have a fabulous six-pack, but I sure feel good hitting those unexpected winners and volleys…

Tags: , , , , , , ,