It was a weekend of global uncertainty. War was on the mouths of politicians and peace was on the mouths of hundreds of thousands of marchers on First Avenue. The economy had dropped into the river of despair with cement booties on, and, to complete the dismal picture, the worst snowstorm of the century socked the area with two feet of the white stuff.
No better time, then, to retreat to the comforting luxuries of Tuxedo Park. The Gold Racquets weekend over President’s Day Weekend was its usual succoring self. Last year’s edition (“Centennial” hoopla with overflow crowds, dinner served after midnight, day-time temperatures in the sixties) turned out to be an aberration.
This year it was back to normal. For one thing, this was the actual one hundredth anniversary of the first Gold Racquets tennis tournament, first played in April 1903 with Charles Sands beating Oliver Campbell. Secondly, the expected gaggle of beautiful people did attend the customary Friday evening soiree at Alexander Salm’s residence and the Saturday evening black-tie dinner-dance at the clubhouse, but in more manageable numbers: a little more than two hundred for the dinner-dance, not the three hundred and fifty of 2002.
At Alex Salm’s Friday night party, Lex Miron and James Zug bookend the legendary Gold Racquets star Edward Ullman, who is patiently explaining his theory that racquets players have more fun.
And the weather was much more appropriate. When the dancing ended at two in the morning it was a toasty five degrees outside. The only thing new and different was a welcomed twist in the music: a lively salsa band led to so much spirited dancing that couples swung around even when the band was on break.
In the 80th playing of the Gold Racquets, it was again, as Tuxedo professional Tommy Greevy likes to say, “the draw with no place to hide.” Among the twenty-one players were five Englishmen (two residing in New York) and three former champions with a total of twelve Gold Racquets titles between them. The most illustrious name was G.H. Bostwick, Jr., but Pete was put out in the first round by Nick Sonne. Some other early round winners of note were Michel Raviol who top-spinned his way past Mike Henman 6-5, 6-4, Bill Moroscak who survived a patient third-set comeback by Greg Van Schaack at 5-1 to survive 6-5 and Camden Riviere who bested his junior rival Barney Tanfield 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. In his first appearance at the Gold Racquets, Riviere, the Aiken carrot-head who has gotten his handicap below his age while barely in high school, became the only American-born-and-bred player in the semifinals.
He went down quickly to James Willcocks, but the other semifinal, between Nigel Pendrigh and Guy Devereux, left many in the dedans rooting with glee. Devereux was in search of his first Gold Racquets double (he had just won yet another Gold Racquets racquets title). The cagey southpaw was up 5-3, 40-30 in the third set. But Pendrigh, who has been in New York this autumn and winter, pulled off some magic to escape 6-5.
The finals were a bit anti-climatic, especially for the large crowd that had been snowbound at Tuxedo Park. The first set was very tight and competitive, with Willcocks barely winning 6-5. He then rolled the next two sets with the loss of just two games. Willcocks, the genial Braesnose bantam (and current British Amateur Doubles Champion) with an Oxford Ph.D. who answers to the nickname Spike, thoroughly dominated. He played with great understanding and control and was able with his beautiful floor game to viciously cut Pendrigh’s railroads into the corners. Pendrigh could only “spatula” the ball back, as assistant pro Kenny Jacobs said, lifting it slow and easy like a flapjack. Interestingly, only two games in the entire match went to deuce. This was Willcocks second consecutive Gold Racquets (and third overall), so if he wins in 2004 he can retire the fabled trophy, something only six men have ever done.
After the finals, Mike Henman & Mike Swenson grabbed the Cuspidor trophy, withstanding the accomplished heckling of Lou Habina and David McFadden. Then came a wonderful England v. U.S. Test match, with Willcocks & Pendrigh outlasting the young upstarts Tanfield & Riviere 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
On Tuesday the skies cleared. Tommy Greevy, who had left home on Friday morning and survived a scary fishtailing three-sixty spin in the storm with Kenny Jacobs, finally left Tuxedo, another Gold Racquets job well done.