Tennis Column: It happened on the way to the courts
If you happen to work in the field of tennis and make the rounds in teaching (especially at resorts), playing tournaments, as well as writing columns - you're bound to meet your fair share of people that are well known.
People are people are people, and we all pretty much have the same wants and needs, but there are a few who have developed special talents, looks, wealth, status and image that the public at large seem to dote over a bit more.
While working at the Arizona Biltmore Resort as tennis professional and later the La Posada Resort as their tennis director, I ran many of the convention tournaments and clinics that took place and taught lessons to whoever might call in for one. This was during the mid 70s to 80s.
I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Wade, Bobby Riggs, Arthur Ashe, Roscoe Tanner, Bill Talbert and others. Virginia was the touring pro for the Biltmore and the others professionals were brought in for a day or two of special clinics and exhibitions.
Virginia Wade, as the touring pro at the Biltmore had a contract to run clinics 30 days out of the year, was putting on a ladies doubles class. She was getting ready to serve, but unknown to her partner was having trouble with her toss. As Wade's partner at the net turned around to see what was taking so long, Virginia let loose, cracking her under the chin, sending her into the net and onto the ground. Thank goodness she came too and was okay, and we all learned a good lesson in playing with a partner that has a so-so toss.
In a clinic, Arthur Ashe was asked a question as to how to run a tie-break, which stumped him. He mumbled something about that's why they have chair umpires and laughed his way out of it.
Bobby Riggs, who lost to Billie Jean King in the Battle of the Sexes, made a grand entrance in a clinic he was running with each arm around two very busty women and a big smile. The couple hours with him went very quickly.
Linda Carter (Wonder Woman) did a private lesson in the heat of the day with a bikini top on and short shorts and the fence around the court was standing room only.
At La Posada, I was manning the phone when a person called for a couple days of lessons by the name of Johnny Carson, and I said, "You sound like the guy on the Tonight Show." He replied, "That's because I am." He was a decent hitter and had absolutely no pretense about his celebrity. In fact, we'd get done with the lesson and he'd sit and talk about his family, especially his son Chris who was a golf pro about my age. He was a charming down-to-earth person.
At the Biltmore I was giving lessons to a family by the name of Anschutz, and they took a liking to me. After a few days they invited me to lunch and Phil Anschutz asked if I thought purchasing the Arizona Biltmore Resort would be a good investment. I thought he was just pulling my leg, later to find out he wasn't. I ended up going to Denver to teach his family and he pushed for me to become the head pro at the Denver Country Club.
This introspective family man ranks as one of the richest people in the U.S., with interests and ownership in oil, real estate, railroads, professional soccer and basketball teams, Qwest, newspapers, the Staples Center, 02 Arena, Home Depot Center, family films and many philanthropy foundations.
As a columnist, I've had the fun and fortune of interviewing people like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King, Lleyton Hewitt, the Bryan brothers, Allen Fox, Vic Braden, Bud Collins, Bob Larson and other tennis notables.
A few years ago at Wimbledon, Ilana Kloss, former tour player and current CEO of World Team Tennis, agreed to an interview and then said I might be able to warm her up on the grass practice courts there for her 35 and Over Women's Doubles match. What a neat gesture and opportunity. We did the interview and were at the courts to hit, but because my credentials didn't permit such, not to mention a recent bomb scare, the warm up didn't get to happen.
At the Princess Resort, Andre Agassi ended an interview on a question when I asked about he and former coach Nick Bollettieri making peace while at the same tournament. They'd had a falling out that evidently was still raw.
Lleyton Hewitt won the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas and let my then 4-year-old son who's named after him, do a short interview. Hat turned around backward and nervous - little Lleyton asked the last question, "Will you say "Come-On" with me?" Hewitt had him do it himself and they both laughed.
Life is short and it's the many personalities that make this world a bit more interesting, so live it right, to the fullest and enjoy.