Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

April 2000

Spring Fever

It must be getting close to spring! March 21st has come and gone, the sap's flowed and the mud's deep, right? And, the real proof for me -- I want to play a little tennis.

My old ritual to greet spring in the years before indoor courts and color coordinated warm-up suits was to go to the neighborhood hardware store and buy a can of balls and two rackets for about 20 bucks. That I could go to a neighborhood hardware store proves beyond contention that the spring ritual I speak of is, indeed, an old one.

Anyway, once I had made my purchase, I'd pull on my tennis shoes, the high topped ones with the little, rubber ankle guard just like the tennis shoes Bob Cousy used to wear to play basketball. A T-shirt, really an undershirt -- no collar, no pocket, no logo -- just a white, cotton tee and any pair of shorts (madras Bermudas were acceptable) completed my attire. Then off to the nearest public school. (Even the elementary schools had a couple of courts).

One late spring (Father's Day, actually), I was given a Wilson T-2000. It was the metal racket with the grommets made of wire wrapped around the tubing in a way that made it possible to lacerate your nose and shin on the same shot. That racket had to cost 40 bucks and it absolutely changed my tennis life. No longer did I play tennis. With that racket I became a tennis player.

As a tennis player, I needed Rod Laver Kangaroo shorts, Henri LaCoste shirts, Tretorn or equivalent sneaks worn only for tennis. I wouldn't think of starting a match with old balls. In the years before T-2000, I might break down and buy three more balls if the rough asphalt courts skinned them down too much. But with the T-2000 I had sweat bands for my wrists and head, a white sun hat, lip balm, zinc oxide for the nose and a strap for my right forearm to ward off tennis elbow. I took lessons, subscribed to Tennis magazine and started playing indoors.

I went from $20 to a $1,000 in one short year, 1971. Go back and check the stats. That is the year tennis came to the masses and I was nothing if not part of the masses. And, I've stayed with it more or less. I used to play in a group that included Abe Brown and Mickey Giannacinni. Mickey, who now lives in Florida year-round, developed a serve I could not only not return consistently from the deuce court, I had a tough time getting a racket on it at all. Abe used to have his way with me as well just like about everyone else, but my enthusiasm for the game never failed to perk up a little more come spring and the outdoor season.

Abe once told me a great tennis tale. It was about the most unusual point in all of tennis: the sudden death point. Ordinarily, only one player can begin a point with the possibility of winning that point and the match. But, if agreed in advance or stated in tournament rules, a sudden death game is played when the game score of a set is tied six games all. In the sudden death format, the first player to win seven points wins. (There is a more popular version called "lingering death," where to win a player must reach seven points or more while leading by two.)

So, in Abe's story, it's the club championship, double match point. The receiver steps into the first serve hitting his best forehand of the match for a winner. Raising his racket, he runs to the net to shake hands with his defeated opponent. At the net, the server says, "Gee, I foot-faulted on that serve, second serve coming up."

If you've got a little tennis spring fever, you know several versions of what happened next.