Tennis : Not a Retiring Type, Tanner Has Decided to Try Another Role

Remember Roscoe Tanner? Huge serve. So big it had its own ZIP code. Tanner hasn’t played a Grand Prix event in 4 years, but he is still known for the speed of his serve, which was once clocked at 153 m.p.h.

That was in 1977 against Raul Ramirez in the final of a tournament at Mission Hills.

“One of the things that has never been said is that I couldn’t do anything else,” Tanner said. “In tennis, the way it’s set up, you can only serve half the games.”

That is true. So is this: Roscoe Tanner is getting a chance now to prove that he can do something else.


Can Tanner act?

The world may find out soon. Tanner, who lives in Santa Barbara, has agreed to play a role in a movie about Suzanne Lenglen.

Lenglen, a 6-time Wimbledon champion, is supposed to be played by actress Karen Baldwin. Tanner portrays Bill Tilden. The movie is produced by Gene Corman, whose previous work includes the television movie “A Woman Named Golda,” which starred Ingrid Bergman.

Corman wanted a tennis player to play Tilden in the movie. It is scheduled to be shot next summer, possibly on the French Riviera.


Meanwhile, Tanner has managed to keep busy since retiring from the pro tour. His life after tennis naturally involves tennis.

“I hadn’t intended to play as long as I did,” said Tanner, 38, a 3-time All-American at Stanford. “You know, when you’re young, you think age 30 is an old age. Now I don’t feel that way. The things I do now are still involved with tennis. I’m enjoying tennis as much or more than I usually did.”

He decided to retire after Dr. Frank Jobe performed arthroscopic surgery on his elbow. Jobe removed cartilage chips and reshaped some bones, which had been affected by Tanner’s years of playing tennis.

“In terms of quitting, it was as good an excuse as anything,” he said. “It kind of made me step back and just go, ‘OK, Roscoe, it’s time.’ People ask me now if I miss it, and I say, ‘Well, I miss playing in the finals. But I don’t miss any of the other stuff.’ ”

Tanner began preparing himself for his post-tennis career while he was still playing. He made television commercials for an apparel company, the Cotton Council and a soap manufacturer.

Tanner also devotes some of his time to cystic fibrosis charities and plays tennis on the over-35 circuit. He is the touring pro for the Tops’l Beach and Racquet Club in Destin, Fla.

Tanner, once the No. 4 player in the world, reached his highest ranking in 1979, the same year he lost to Bjorn Borg in a memorable 5-set Wimbledon final and 2 years after he had won the Australian Open.

Tanner said he knew when to quit tennis. He identified others who are possibly in the same boat.


“Any of the players that are doing less well than they are used to,” he said. "(John) McEnroe is probably still making plenty of money off of it, but how enjoyable is it, when you’ve been No. 1, to be No. 15?

“That’s something people ask me: ‘Why don’t you come back and play? Maybe you can get in the top 100.’ It would take an awful lot of work, first. And I don’t know if I could do that. But also, even if I were ranked 90, why would I want to do it?”

At 41, Stan Smith has found that he enjoys his own life after tennis, possibly because he’s still playing.

“My post-career career,” Smith called it.

Like Tanner, he plays in 5 over-35 tournaments a year in a league that he got into on the ground floor and has watched grow.

“The competition is surprisingly good, and this year it’s really good,” Smith said. “Vijay Amritraj, Hank Pfister and Jose Higueras are all new this year. And Tom Gullikson is in his third year, and it seems like he wins every week.

“There are some guys in the over-35s who could beat some of the guys out there on the big tour.”

Smith’s career moves in two other areas as well. He is the director of coaching for the United States Tennis Assn. and vice president of All-American Sports, which conducts tennis camps and is based in New York. He also has his own company, Stan Smith Ltd., which designs tennis facilities.


All this is fine now, but he said that when he stopped playing on the tour, he and his peers weren’t ready for what lay ahead.

“I don’t think we were any better prepared for so-called life after tennis than the guys are today,” he said. “When you are out there playing the big tour, you don’t think about that. You should, of course.”

Pro tennis’ version of a senior tour differs from golf’s in the eligibility age, which is 35, not 50. There are other differences as well. The over-35s also must have won a Grand Slam event, earned $1 million in prize money, played Davis Cup or been ranked No. 1.

Smith, Tanner, Amritraj, Gullikson, Higueras, Pfister, Bob Lutz, Tom Gorman, Ross Case, Frew McMillan, Sherwood Stewart and Colin Dibley are scheduled to play in the $40,000 Prudential-Bache Grand Champions this week. First place is worth $7,000.

The event will be played Thursday through Sunday at the Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club at San Clemente.

What is the on-court beverage of choice among the over-35 players?

Pickle juice.

Sorry to say, it’s true. Here’s how you mix it: first take a jar of pickles, then mix some water with the brine already in there, and bottoms up.

Leaders of the pickle juice movement are Dibley, 44, and Harold Solomon, 36. At changeovers, they don’t just get a drink, they get pickled.

Tennis Notes

The undercard for the Michelin Challenge Series event Nov. 27 at the Forum will be mixed doubles, matching Tracy Austin and John Lloyd against Stephanie Rehe and Pete Sampras. Chris Evert will play Martina Navratilova in the main event. . . . Six players are entered in the $300,000 Michelin Challenge, Dec. 9-11 at the Forum: John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang and Sampras. Top prize is $100,000. McEnroe and Edberg will get first-round byes because they reached the final of last year’s event. There also will be four doubles teams competing for $20,000.

Austin continued her comeback in Zurich, Switzerland, last week, but as she approaches her 26th birthday, she sounds convinced that there is more to her life than tennis. She and Pam Shriver made it to the doubles semifinals of the European indoor tournament, which was Austin’s sixth event since August, when she returned to the circuit after a 5-year absence caused by back and neck trouble.

“Tennis is a part of my life, and I will always enjoy it, but overall, life is bigger than tennis,” Austin told the Associated Press. “Now I’m just a person who happens to play tennis.” And what person will she be after tennis? “Who knows? Maybe I’ll be married and have children.”

Rehe, 18, from Highland, has moved to 12th in the standings for the 16-player Virginia Slims Championships. Rehe is coming back from a disappointing year in 1987 when she withdrew from a number of tournaments because of injuries, the worst being severely pulled stomach muscles. . . . Mike Estep, who coached Navratilova when she was at the peak of her game, is rumored to be the new coach for Hana Mandlikova, who has dropped from No. 4 to No. 13 in the rankings. Estep is parting ways with his latest pupil, Sylvia Hanika.

China will hold its first professional tennis tournament, Nov. 7-13 in Canton, which will be the inaugural event for the country’s first tennis club. Organizers said 50 players from 10 countries will participate in the $25,000 Nabisco China Challenger, and 32 will make the main draw. The top-seeded player is ranked 195th in the world: Steve Guy of New Zealand.

Boris Becker has signed a 5-year contract with Diadora to publicize the Italian company’s shoes on the tennis circuit beginning in January. Terms were not disclosed, but Diadora recently canceled a $2-million, 5-year contract with Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson after he lost his gold medal at the Seoul Olympics because of steroid use. Becker signed a $5-million contract in April with another Italian sportswear company to publicize its tennis clothing for 5 years.