As a boy I loved almost all sports — but not tennis. The game seemed too “country clubish” for me. Plus it was slow and the scoring was strange. For example, zero was called “love.” And if the first point was 15 and the second 30, how did the third become 40?
Even tennis clothes seemed overly proper. Players wore white shorts, white shirts, and don’t forget the sweaters with the sleeves tied casually around the neck. I always thought if there was a windstorm, some guy could choke.
In 1986, Santa Monica built the Ocean View Courts adjacent to my apartment building. But even next door, tennis didn’t look like a game for me.
But my attitude changed forever when I attended the 1987 L.A. Open and saw 17-year-old Andre Agassi. (This year marks the 85th run of what was once called the L.A. Open. The Farmers Classic presented by Mercedes-Benz, takes place July 25-31 at UCLA.)
When long-haired Andre, wearing denim shorts and jacket, stepped onto the court, teenage girls screamed so loudly I thought I was at Shea Stadium and the Beatles were performing. (Not quite, but almost.) And Agassi’s go-for-broke, rocket-like forehand had me mesmerized.
That weekend my wife persuaded me to try tennis at our courts. She later would admit that she created a monster as from that day I became a tennis junkie. A few years later, in our divorce papers, I believe she claimed my favorite tennis racket as a co-respondent. (Not quite, but almost.)
Over the years I’ve gone to the L.A. Open at UCLA many times. It’s a great venue from which to watch a tennis match and an impressive field. I’ve seen Sampras, Chang, Becker, Roddick, Courier, Edberg and Agassi, who won the tournament a record-tying four times. (Connors also won four titles, while Bob and Mike Bryan have won the doubles title a record six times.)
Actually, I never realized what a legendary tournament this is. In 1927, the first champion was the famed Big Bill Tilden. Everybody who was anybody in the tennis world played here, including: Fred Perry, Don Budge, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Roy Emerson. Pancho Gonzales won in 1949 and then again at age 43, beating 19-year-old Jimmy Connors for the 1971 title. How’s that for amazing?
Two other past winners worth noting are Jon Douglas and Allen Fox. Douglas was a Santa Monica High School graduate, a star for Stanford at quarterback and in tennis. The founder of Jon Douglas Real Estate, he was also my landlord until his death last year.
Dr. Fox, a psychologist since 1968, won the NCAA singles championship for UCLA in 1961, reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1965 and was a three-time member of the U.S. Davis Cup team. He went on to coach Pepperdine’s team for 19 years, and has authored numerous books on sports psychology.
In winning the L.A. Open in 1966, Fox beat all four Grand Slam champions for that season. Fox will be speaking to the crowd at this year’s tournament about what’s happening mentally on the court in conjunction with his new book, “Tennis: Winning the Mental Match.”
The 2011 field includes two Grand Slam champions, Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Martin del Potro. In 2001 Hewitt won the U.S. Open and became the youngest male number one at age 20. (In 2002 he also won Wimbledon.)
In 2009, del Potro won the U.S. Open (and became the only winner in the past 25 Slams not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic.)
At number nine in the world, American Mardy Fish is the tournament’s top ranked player. Among other stars, he’s joined by fellow American James Blake, hard-hitting Chilean Fernando Gonzales, Russian Dmitry Tursunov, and the charismatic Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, an Australian Open finalist in 2006.
Given the previous 84 years, it would seem to me that going to the 2011 Farmer’s Classic might qualify you as part of tennis history. (Well, not quite, but almost.)
To find out more about this year’s tournament, go to www.farmersclassic.com. Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.