Whatever the outcome of the Australian Open tennis tournament, it was good to see a smiling Rod Laver sitting in a prominent spot in the stadium named for him. As far as I know, Laver’s only appearance in this area occurred in 1965 at the opening of the Tahoe Racquet Club at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. At that time, pro tennis players were not eligible to compete at Wimbledon and since the Tahoe tournament was played at the same time as the English event, the competitors at Tahoe spent most of their free time watching the black-and-white telecast from England. The Tahoe tournament finals were played between Laver and Pancho Gonzales. The taller Gonzales, who was a serve-and-volley master seemed far more imposing than the average-sized Laver. However, Laver had developed a new shot on the tennis scene which consisted of a fierce service routine. Previously, most tennis players had only sought to block a big serve. In an early exchange, responding to one of Gonzales’ most powerful serves, Laver struck the ball so hard that it pierced a hole in the new net which caused owner Peter Paxton to exclaim, “Hey, Guys! That’s a brand new net!” Laver went on to defeat Pancho in an exciting finals match.
As of this writing, three finals spots have been decided with the fourth coming from the Nadal-Dimitrov match…
A recent article in Virginia City’s Comstock Chronicle Newspaper by McAvoy Layne (The Ghost of Mark Twain) was devoted to his training for arm wrestling. It reminded me of the many adventures that occurred during the time arm wrestling was in vogue. My first experience in the manly art happened during my time in the Army. Since recreational opportunities seldom existed for GI’s, arm wrestling contests were frequent events in the barracks. Following that time, I learned of a very special type of arm wrestling courtesy of Benny Raggio, uncle of DA Bill Raggio. He called it “Italian” arm wrestling. In this version, rather than grasp your opponent’s whole hand, you interlocked little fingers so that it was more a contest to see how much pain you could stand rather one of brute strength. I didn’t encounter many athletes who practiced the Italian version until I hooked up with former DA Jack Streeter. Streeter was a towering physical specimen and our last encounter occurred at Pagni’s Jubilee Club. We decided to abandon the sport after we managed to turn over one of the club’s 21 Tables in a standoff match. Later on, when I became active at the Tahoe Racquet Club, many post-tennis matches were highlighted by arm wrestling at the adjoining bar. I quickly learned that tennis players have exceedingly strong arms. My most embarrassing event at the sport was also my last. It occurred during the Clint Eastwood Celebrity tennis tournament, held at the Lake in 1975. The tournament had come to an end and at our post-tourney nighttime celebration at Hugo’s, my tennis partner, Peter Paxton and I were engaged in a spirited contest of arm wrestling. In between bouts, we were joined by a husky young fellow who had been hired to bartend during the tournament. He was a personable fellow, some 20 years younger, from San Francisco, and he asked if he could take on the winner of the next match.
Unfortunately, I won and in sizing up my next opponent, I was reminded of a trick that one of my previous tennis partner had said he always employed when arm wrestling. It was a simple maneuver that had you using your left hand to tap your opponent’s cheek just as you said the word, “Go!” Due to the disparity of age between me and the bartender, I decide to employ said technique. Again, unfortunately, my left hand was below the table top, so instead of delivering a light tap, I must have swung a little too vigorously and the result of the blow was that it knocked my opponent off the chair as his right arm was slammed upon the table. Red-faced and furious, he leapt to his feet and said, “OK, outside!” I managed to cajole him by telling him that I had been a semi-pro boxer and that I apologized for striking him and couldn’t we just sit down and have another round of drinks?
He finally cooled down and we had several more rounds. A few months later, I happened to be in the Bay Area and visited the bar where he worked. It was a busy place and I asked the bartender at my end to ask her fellow co-worker if he would be interested in a bit of arm wrestling. He immediately came down the bar, shook hands and bought me several drinks on the house.
A very nice guy.