Has it really been 10 years? Boy, oh boy, I started the San Diego Tennis Network in 1999 - the greatest project I have ever undertaken. Giving a large number of tennis players a platform to play and socialize, and have fun! I can't wait to replicate this process and achieve the same (or even better results) by starting and running the San Fernando Valley Tennis Network.
Reminiscing over the past 10 years I remembered a few interesting anecdotes and moments that may be interesting for some of you. Here it goes...
... 1999 - I was still a member at the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in Cardiff (San Diego North County). The owner, Lorne Kuhle, was actually Bobby's sidekick long ago, and can be seen on some famous pictures with Bobby and BJK. I worked for a cool little aerial photography business as Digital imaging Manager (Photoshop Guru) and Lorne commissioned us to create 6 life size graphics for his "Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum" at the club. I scanned, retouched, printed, mounted, and hung on the walls 6 ft images of Bobby and his contemporaries, like Pancho Segura, Jack Kramer, Margaret Court, BJK, and Pancho Gonzales. You've got to check this out. The museum holds many of BR's trophies, racquets, literature.
... You think Billie Jean King is the only woman Bobby Riggs played against? Think again. May 13, 1973, a 31 year-old Margaret Court, #1 female player at the time, and the winningest player of all time (62 Grand Slams), lost to a 55 year old Bobby Riggs in Ramona California. It is commonly believed she lost because she didn't take him seriously, haha. In 2001 I met a man in Poway who said he had the original score board of this match in his garage. Too bad he didn't want to sell it. Who knows, I may have donated it to the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum...
...While I was running mixers at Bobby Riggs Tennis Club the head pro's name was Svetozar (Tole) Marinkovic. His claim to fame - besides not liking Social Tennis Networks - was his short marriage to actress Robin Givens. Wikipedia writes about Givens: "In 1997, Robin married again, this time to her tennis instructor, Svetozar Marinkovic. The match proved even more disastrous than that with Mike Tyson, as Robin and Marinkovic separated the very day they were married, and within months, Robin filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences." While I was running mixers I saw Givens sometimes walking around with a hood over her head and a baby in her arms, waiting for Tole to finish a lesson. I think the baby's father is tennis celebrity Murphy Jensen. That was all really weird.
When Tole canceled my group's Tuesday night mixer at Bobby Riggs I decided to take the San Diego Tennis Network to other venues and expand it, won hundreds of members, and had weeknight mixers at posh clubs like La Costa Resort & Spa and Morgan Run Resort. I guess I should thank Tole for "setting me free", haha.
...But Tole had another impact on my life. I am smiling writing this, you have to take my word for it. Still in 1999 I had this crazy idea that the San Diego Tennis Network needed a celebrity spokesperson in order to become big. Oh boy! Did I have any money? No! Just a lot of enthusiasm and drive. Well, I found out Tole went to school with Goran Ivanisevic in Yugoslavia (now Croatia). I dared him enough and he managed to arrange a meeting with me and Goran at the Hyatt Grand Champions in Indian Wells, where he played at the big tournament, which was then called Newsweek Champions Cup (later called Pacific Life Open, and today it's the BNP Paribas open).
The morning of our meeting I was waiting in the lobby of the Hyatt, and there he was, just as I pictured him: Tall, friendly, a little shy. He came from the golf course and insisted to speak German with me. When I tried to talk business with him, he declined, telling me he was waiting for his Manager. "Gorian doesn't talk about business, manager does" he repeatedly told me. Finally a younger man in a business suit, and with a French accent, arrived. Goran got up, introduced him as his Business Manager from Monaco, and disappeared. Good lord, I thought, that isn't going well. Little did I know that this man was a master at business talk short cuts. He asked what I wanted. Halfway through my first sentence, where I wanted to elaborate about big tennis stars needing to do something for small community tennis organizations, he stopped me cold with one wave of his hand and said: "Five hundred thousand dollars! Do you have that kind of money, or not?" Before I was able to finish the word "No" he got up, shook my hand and said "It was a pleasure. Call me when you have the money".
Needless to say, I never picked up the phone. Who knows, he may still be sitting by the phone in some condo in Monaco, waiting for my call. And Goran? He got a bye in the first round of that tournament and lost in the second round against a fairly unknown player: the American Jonathan Stark. Too bad, Goran. I hope it wasn't something I said, haha.
...Over the years many different kinds of players joined the San Diego Tennis Network. The youngest I think was about 20, and the oldest was over 70. He, btw, happened to be one of the best players in the Network, former Junior Wimbledon contestant (probably at the height of the Jack Kramer era, post-Bobby Riggs). But we had all ratings levels, basically from 3.0 to 4.5. I never forget this guy who came up to me for the first time and I routinely asked him what his tennis level is. He hesitated and then looked me straight into my eyes and said: "My level is FUN". He turned out to be a terrific guy and we all loved to play with him. How could we not?
I also remember Ken, who could not play diddly squat and wasted so much time explaining to us why our tips didn't work for him. He knew it so much better - until the day came when no one wanted to play with him anymore. That's when he left. Or how about that tennis coach from Venezuela who told us in his home country they call Mixed Doubles "Men's Singles with Obstacles". Boy, oh boy. I wish my current (female) coach would get ahold of this guy. She would make minced meat out of him!
We had good times and bad times. Matches were made in the Network, and happy people played their little hearts out. On the other side of the coin, I saw a player die right next to me on the tennis court, with a doctor present - fatal heart attack. Good times and bad times... At the funeral they asked people to speak and say something about this man, whose name was Jack. People hesitated a little and the mood was soso. I got up and said "Jack, wherever you are, you GOT to work on your backhand now". That broke the ice pretty much and people started to come forward and were in a better mood.
...I had an absolutely fantastic hand in asking the perfect ladies to run the social activities of the Network. Judi and Marti, best friends, charming women, always up to a match, always dressed in the latest tennis fashion, always smiling, and very social. Boy, do they know how to throw parties (they still do it today for the Network). And they arranged outings and bowling, dancing, softball, Christmas parties, Day at the Races - you name it, Judi and Marti do it. Abdsolute gems on and off the court, and wonderful friends.
And there are more perfect ladies that need a mention (In my experience, it is the women who hold such a group together and make it more interesting to join. Seriously!). First of all Sue Spencer, who now manages the Network as co-owner. Fabulous person, experienced manager, very social and knows the importance of adding social components to maintain a lively tennis organization. Then there is Donna Dube, fierce competitor and manager of many tournaments. What do both ladies have in common? Year after year they play USTA Leagues and have tremendous fun doing so. Often you'll see their teams going to local and regional Championships, or even to Nationals. This is the backbone of USTA Leagues. Dedicated. Determined. Loving it!
...And then there was Lori, who everybody adored. Blond, outspoken, California native, and a brave tennis player who knew how to win a match. When she and our member and great buddy Stepan began dating we all thought this was a match made in heaven. A year or so later Stepan told me he wanted to propose and needed the right venue. I arranged a small tennis mixer for him at Rancho Valencia Resort and the rest is history. They got married, have an adorable daughter (Michelle), and live very happily in Carlsbad. Who says Social Tennis Networks aren't good venues for finding a mate? Ha, you can often see members of the opposite sex in rather skimpy outfits. That's an advantage right there, isn't it? It's not like online dating. On the tennis court you can actually see what you're shopping for. LOL.
...And then there were the fundraisers, like the one at La Costa Resort, where Benny Ricardo was MC and my good friend Vic Braden was Keynote Speaker, telling us side-splitting stories about his encounters with Bobby Riggs. Like the one where he and a formidable female player challenged Bobby for a mixed doubles match. On the match day they entered the court only to find Bobby with one foot chained to the foot of a full grown female elephant. Vic explained: "Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to lose against a player with an elephant as partner on the other side?" Very funny.
Or the other time when Vic played Bobby at a tournament in the Midwest. Vic felt great and won the first set, feeling he could beat the Champion. When they started to go out and begin the second set their paths crossed and Bobby said calmly to Vic: "Don't worry, Vic, your serve will come back eventually". That did it. Vic did not win one more service game and lost the match. Ah, the power of playing mind games...
...Members of the San Diego Tennis Network remember me as the guy who started it all, who always tried to tell jokes translated from German (never works!), who held mixers with authority and skill (really!), and didn't shy away from banning members for a month if they didn't behave on or off the court. One of my favorite sayings always drew a smile from players standing around. When a new player started to complain that he or she supposedly didn't get the right level matches I took them aside and told them: "Listen, this is not a democracy here. It's a kingdom, and you are NOT the king". That defused the situation and took the wind completely out of their sails. If they were outraged by this remark, we let them go because those people are no fun to play with. Right? Got it?
I think I've got to stop now. Many more stories to tell, but I'll do that another time. Be good and pick up that racquet and play! See if you find a Social Tennis Network to join. It'll be fun!