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Tennis Sage Debunks a Stereotype

Sam Match of Tarzana was a winner last weekend in the 54th Southern California Senior Sectional Invitational tennis championships at the Racquet Centre in Universal City, defeating Merwin Miller of Claremont, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, in the singles competition for men aged 65-69.

That conjures up all sorts of images in your mind, doesn’t it? And not many of them complimentary.

Seniors singles? Probably a bunch of men spending more time hitting the oxygen tanks than the ball. Rather than the traditional sound of the grunt, most servers at this level favor the wheeze, right?

You probably think if you found yourself in a match with one of these guys the only thing that could beat you would be the boredom. After all, if you hit a good lob, by the time it came down, your opponent probably would have forgotten why he was there in the first place.

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Such stereotypes are common, but, in most cases, hardly accurate. Tennis is certainly a game favored by the young, but advanced age is no barrier.

For example, take Match (an appropriate name for a tennis player). Before you get too carried away at the prospect of playing a 65-year-old man, check out his credentials.

He has been playing the game for 52 years. Despite never having had a formal lesson, he was state junior champion at age 18.

After graduating from Los Angeles High, Match went to Rice University in Texas where he and partner Bobby Curtis won an NCAA doubles championship in 1947. Match transferred to the University of San Francisco, where he reached the NCAA finals in both singles and doubles in 1949, only to lose both.

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“I had the guy, too, damn it,” he says, still feeling the pain of the singles loss to Jack Tuero of Tulane nearly 40 years later.

Match continued to play after leaving school, holding a top-10 amateur ranking for five years. He collected wins over such figures of the day as Pancho Gonzalez and Ted Schroeder.

Match was a teaching pro for a while, giving lessons to celebrities such as Charlton Heston and Dan Rowan. Match played at Wimbledon four times in seniors doubles, reaching the final with partner Gardnar Mulloy in 1968, only to lose.

Playing with his idol, Bobby Riggs, Match won the national hardcourt doubles championship in 1970.

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And for the past two decades, Match has been ranked No. 1 at least one year in each age bracket (45, 50, 55). He didn’t compete at 60 because of the demands of his job as a loan officer.

But at 65, he decided he could stay away from competitive tennis no longer.

“I just love the game,” he says. “I’m as enthusiastic as I ever was. Your ego always tells you that you can do as well as you ever did, but realistically, you’re not as good. I think I can play equal to a 50-year-old. The things that go are your speed and your eye. My footwork is slowed up. And I don’t see the ball as well when it comes up to the racket.

“But I’m probably at my best weight. My serve hasn’t changed because it depends on motion. And my desire is what really keeps me going.”

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If anything, age has strengthened that desire.

“As you get older,” Match says, “tennis becomes more important because it’s a great door opener for business, socially and it’s great for your health.”

In his half-century association with tennis, Match has seen his sport shift over and over from the forefront to the background and back again.

“You have cycles in tennis,” he says. “Television brought it into the living room. People saw movie stars playing. It was glamorous--the clothes, the rackets. But it is a hard game to play. Some people have big egos. When they saw they could not do well right away, they gave it up for other forms of exercise. They got into running, into racquetball.

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“Tennis is not a fad sport, though. Once you become hooked, you’re a tennis bum.”

So the next time you pass a couple of senior citizens smacking the ball around on a court, stifle that chuckle.

You just might be in for a shock if you had to play one of them. After all, when was the last time you were at Wimbledon?


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