ASHEVILLE -- The sad state of American tennis has been much discussed lately. And the saddest state of all is the inability of an American to win on clay. Last year no American man made it out of the first round of the French Open.
This year was little better. Only because Robbie Ginepri made the fourth round did we Americans not get entirely eliminated from a Grand Slam event before the quarterfinals for the second time in the 40-year history of the Open era. And it should be noted that the only time such an early elimination actually happened, the Australian Open in 1973, not a single American man or woman was even in the field.
My trip to this year’s State Championships can only add to current dismay. Now, it is clear, not only have the upper levels of American tennis collapsed but the mediocre levels have as well. When teams which would have me as a playing member make the North Carolina Tennis Championship, or any state championship for that matter, something is woefully wrong -- or I am much better than I let on to be. Trust me, something is woefully wrong.
Last year our team went to Asheville to the state senior men's 3.5 tennis doubles championships and thought we had ended conclusively any debate about whether American men could win on soft courts. Every team we played showed they could -- at least against us.
This year we went to Asheville with hopes of doing better. My lofty personal goal was to win one set.
As you may know, as mediocre as I am, I am also as erratic as I am, so anything could happen. (There are times, I should point out, when Roger Federer wishes he could play like me, such as the third set at this year’s French Open, where I won as many games as he did but lost six fewer.)
Anyway, I am certain my loyal readers are waiting with bated breath to hear how I did at the United States Tennis Association's North Carolina Senior Men's 3.5 Doubles Tennis Championships, but that’s not the question. The question is how on earth did a team which included me as an actual playing member ever get to the state championships? The answer: the system is rigged. In this case, with two teams in our league, one of us has to win, that turned out to be the Hawks of Hollow Rock.
How did the Hawks fare in Asheville? To use the technical term, on Thursday morning, in first matches of the first day of the tournament, we got our clocks cleaned -- effectively erasing our near non-existent odds for making Sunday’s Final Four. Against some old guys from "Down East," our three doubles-partnership second-set scores were 1-6, 1-6 and 0-6. (Guess which one, or should I say which zero, was mine?)
As I noted at the end of the match, to our opponents, Tom and Jerry (actual names of actual people), "it wasn’t fair," noting that Jerry (who also plays in the 70s age group tournaments) had his granddaughter cheering for him and I don’t even have a grandchild. He said she was his wife -- but I still don’t believe him.
The next day was little better as we were again swept on all three courts in straight sets.
Saturday was our last chance. My regular doubles partner Terry O'Culligan drove all the way up from Durham on Saturday morning, arriving in time to play Ken and Bill, who were in close contention, with Terry and me, for Misters Congeniality. (I think they won when in the middle of the match they earnestly offered Terry one of their white shirts to replace the black long-sleeved one he was inexplicably wearing in the sweltering heat.)
We won the first set easily at 6-2, setting up perfectly my personal formula for a catastrophic collapse. In the second set, we were leading 4-1, then ahead 5-2, when we lost a game, then we lost another game. This is how it goes with me.
So, on my serve, with the pressure mounting at 5-4, Terry and I won the game and with it the set and with that the match. As our teammates Bob Clark and Carl Rose had already won their match on another court, it meant the Hawks of Hollow Rock proved without debate that we were not the worst 3.5 senior men's team in the tournament. That honor now belongs to the "The Directors" of Cary.
And it couldn’t belong to nicer guys.
In a rare family doubles double, Gary D. Gaddy’s darling wife’s tennis team, the Halyrackets, also went to Asheville to the United States Tennis Association's North Carolina Senior Women's 3.5 Doubles Tennis Championships. They finished in the Final Four for the state.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Thursday June 12, 2008.
Copyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy