Watching this year’s staging of the French Open with its colorfully-clad contestants both on the male and female side, I was most impressed with a special screening of a documentary following some of the matches that featured many of the white-clad competitors of decades ago.
It was entitled “The Barnstormers” and it was narrated by Robert Redford. The film, which was done in a dozen segments, was a tribute to Jack Kramer, who was the one man responsible for the exciting Open era that we enjoy today. Between the old black-and-white film clips of great players in their prime, there were interesting commentaries by those same players in living color. Chief among them was Rod Laver, who was also interviewed on the Tennis Channel in a separate segment promoting his new book.
For the writer, this was a trip down Memory Lane since some fifty years ago several of these iconic athletes were attracted to Lake Tahoe for the opening of Peter Paxton’s Tahoe Racquet Club. While that club was still under construction I had been retained by Paxton to handle the advertising and publicity for the venue.
When I first met Paxton at the old Chataux at Incline, I asked him if he knew how long and severe the winter season at Tahoe was. The prospect of building his magnificent tennis facility that would probably only operate for three to four months of the year didn’t seem to faze him. He said that in addition to the six courts he was planning on having an indoor restaurant and bar plus three or four buildings that would be 4-plexes in which guests could stay year-round. He added that he was seeking the services of super star tennis player Pancho Gonzales to be his non-resident Pro.
Prior to opening day, he told me that he wanted to stage a spectacular tournament to mark the occasion and that he had lined up a number of top professionals to participate.
Among those players who showed up for the tournament were many that appeared on the recent Tennis Channel film. Some of the names I recall were Gonzales himself, Rod Laver, Kenny Rosewall, Mal Anderson, Luis Ayala and Jose Gimenez. Of those, I was privileged to play in several matches with and against Gonzales, mostly in doubles.
One of the top Pros featured in the Barnstormers flick, both as a player and interviewee was Tony Trabert. In person, Trabert was built more like a football middle linebacker than a tennis player. But he had achieved great fame because of his powerful strokes that usually demolished smaller and more slender opponents. When I asked him how he hit the ball so hard, he replied, “I take the racquet straight back and hit the ball straight forward.” He probably would never have envisioned the top-spin antics that are employed by all of the top players today.
Following the first year of the Tahoe club’s existence, Gonzales was replaced by Trabert who acted as a full-time Pro and conducted tennis camps for Paxton during the summer months. Since Trabert was an affable and friendly person, I began a close friendship with him that lasted several years during which I met with him numerous times in LA when he was acting as a salesman for the Adler Sock Company. After his sales activity, he opened his own summer tennis camp for youths in Southern California. From there his long career included network television commentator and a long stint as captain of the US Davis Cup team…
FIVE VS. EIGHT
The recently completed Western NBA Finals had the sensational Warriors coming from a 3-1 deficit to win the series. The reason for the headline on this item is that all seven games played saw the Warriors roundly mistreated by the three referees on the floor. For a forty year period I was involved in basketball as a player, coach, commissioner and referee. Watching the refs in the OKC-Warriors contest I was amazed how many calls they made in favor of Oklahoma City such as the “Blown Call” which missed Westbrook’s traveling in the final seconds of the first game. Westbrook himself has mastered the bull rush technique of driving for a layup when he aims his body as a defender and receives the benefit of a foul call. Other notable misses by the refs were not to give Curry the opportunity to get to the foul line as he was routinely hacked, pushed, grabbed and eventually slammed to the floor by Kevin Durant on many occasions. The worst example of refereeing I have ever seen.