The 2018 tennis season is rapidly winding down with the completion of the US open and the Laver Cup. So it might be a good time to recall some of the Nevada highlights on the tennis court.
We have to start off with the most famous career of any Nevadan on the international scene. That would be Andre Agassi. Who had a stellar professional experience after cutting his teeth as the youngest member in the long ago Nevada Governors Cup for youngsters.
While a definitive history of tennis in Northern Nevada would be many volumes in content and would take a long time to write, there are a few names and events which highlight the evolution of the game in this area and are extremely noteworthy.
The University of Nevada has been one of the constants in the ever changing story of tennis in this area. The best remembered tennis coach of the Wolf Pack is the late Bob Fairman, who did a stint at the helm shortly after World War II and then for a long time in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of the names that will be remembered from the 40’s are Judge Ed Reed and all American quarter back Stan Heaths back up, Alva Tabor.
A big contributor to the tennis pack in those days was Pete Pridgen, one of a contingent of Florida athletes who played various sports at Nevada. In those days Pridgen was a playing partner of Jimmy Evert (Chris’s dad).
No story about tennis in this area would be complete without mention of Tilly Botti, the garlic groaning godfather of the sport at the Reno Tennis Clubs digs below the Washoe County Golf course. In many time- champion singles and doubles, Tilly was still stoking the ball on a daily basis until his demise. I recall the many occasions I was his doubles partner he would start the game off by saying “do you want to play back hand or do you want to win.” Also a clump of garlic from his garden adjacent to the courts was your reward if you happened to win your match.
On the distaff side the most famous local player had to be Barbara Bradley Clark, who graced the courts at Wimbledon.
The aforementioned Nevada Governs Cup was instituted by Supreme Court Justice Dave Zenoff during the tenure of Governor Paul Laxalt (an avid tennis player himself) brought together young and talented tennis players from all parts of the state. Currently one of the tennis pros still operating in this area is personable Glen Grisillo. A star player at Nevada he battled through the qualifying rounds at Wimbledon, Grisillo knows players at all levels, and once-while a student at the university- with cousin Mel Baleson set the Guiness Book of World Records for marathon tennis in Reno.
Another important name on the honor roll of tennis in Northern Nevada is that of Peter Paxton. Coming to nearby Incline Village, Lake Tahoe in 1965 he started the first private club, the Tahoe Racket Club, to achieve major status. The late Dinah Shore was his first charter member. Paxton hosted the largest professional tennis tournament ever seen hereabouts with the likes of Pancho Gonzalez, Rob Laver, Ken Rosewall, Andre Gimeno and many of the top ranked pros. Included on the roster of Paxton professional’s in those early days were Gonzalez, Tony Trabert, Dennis Van Der Meer and Billie Jean King.
Best attended-tennis event ever held here was the Clint Eastwood Hyatt tourney held at Incline in 1975. The prestigious tournament was lured from Pebble Beach to the Lake and was attended by more than 150 high-profile entertainers, tennis pros and gifted amatures. More than 3000 spectators witnessed the popular event.
Since I was involved in both Paxton’s club as PR man and the individual responsible for security for the Eastwood tournament I have vivid memories of that time in local tennis history.
I first met Paxton at the Chataux, on the golf course at Incline. A mutual friend, realtor Rod Campbell, introduced us and noted that he had sold Paxton a parcel of land on which to build a tennis complex. My first question was “does Paxton know how short the summer season at Lake Tahoe is”? Campbell replied that it didn’t seem to phase Paxton. As it turned out the club opened with more than 300 members and then Governor, Grant Sawyer, tossing out the first ball.
As to the Eastwood tournament I remember traveling to San Francisco to meet with Hyatt president, Skip Friend and to sell him on the idea of bringing the Eastwood tournament to Lake Tahoe. After I secured his blessing and financing my next task was to contact Eastwood and ask him to host the tournament. Eastwood turned out to be a most genial host and his name attracted such celebs as Merv Griffin, Gene Hackman, Wayne Rogers, Dan Rowan, Doug McClure, Rick Barry, Lloyd Bridges, Glenn Campbell,R.C.Owens and many others.