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Ageless tennis.


With physical preparation and a sense of strategy, you can play and win for as many years as you can see and hit the ball.

On a recent weekend, Jeffrey Appleblatt, 40, president of a chemical company, faced Stanley Kallman, 58, attorney, for what had to be the 300th duel of their ten-year-old tennis rivalry.

The match was two out of three sets, as usual, and Appleblatt, powerfully built with a bludgeon of a forehand, a reliable backhand, and a strong net game, looked like the easy favorite. Kallman was heavier and 18 years older than his opponent.

In a fast 20 minutes, Appleblatt won the first set. But then, in the second set, Kallman seemed to get his rhythm together--although to be more accurate, he was tearing apart Appleblatt's rhythm. When it seemed Kallman should hit a hard drive, he feathered a delicate drop shot. Kallman constantly changed the speed and spin on his shots, keeping Appleblatt off-balance. It worked. He won the second set 7-6 in a tiebreaker.

The real end came at a four-all tie in the third set. The sun was a bit higher now, and brilliant. Appleblatt was serving. Kallman put up a lob, not too tough, but Appleblatt had to shade his eyes and failed to put it away. Kallman put up another, and another. On the fourth lob, Appleblatt, seemingly blinded, hit the ball into the net, lost serve, then lost the deciding set 6-4, and consequently the match.

Appleblatt threw his hands into the air and shouted, "How could I lose to you?"

Kallman chuckled and replied, "I'm just smarter than you, Jeffrey."

Not Just Playing, Winning

Relative IQs aside, there's no question that Kallman plays a more intelligent game--a game designed around knowledge of his and his opponent's skills and physical limitations. That element of strategy is one of the major reasons tennis stays so attractive to hundreds of thousands of men and women who continue to play the game from their 20s and 30s into their 70s and 80s.

It's not just that tennis is aerobically good for you at any level of play. Or that, as a Manhattan orthopedist, Marvin Gilbert, M.D., says, "It exercises all of your body, not just your legs." Or even that you'll burn 450 calories an hour playing hard. It's more that you don't need the raw athletic ability of a Carl Lewis or Florence Griffith Joyner to excel. And, maybe most important, with proper physical preparation, a keen sense of strategy, and mental toughness, you can enjoy the game and win for as many years as you can see and hit the ball and take five quick strides in any direction.

Says one orthopedist, Michael Neuwirth, M.D., "At 70 you've only lost about 20 percent of the reflex speed you had when you were 20." The trick and the task then--as both 37-year-old Jimmy Connors and 58-year-old Stanley Kallman know--is to fine-tune your body to avoid "tennis injuries" and develop a strategy that will take your physical limitations into account: winning strategy is the same for amateurs as it is for pros. (In fact, the match Kallman won was almost an exact strategic mirror of a five-set battle in which Miloslav Mecir defeated Yannick Noah--easily the superior athlete--to win this spring's Newsweek Champions Cup.)

Giving Your Body Every Advantage

But before getting into smart strategy, an outline of off-court preparation for maximizing performance and minimizing injuries is necessary. "You should be fit to play tennis, and not play tennis to be fit," says the former Wimbledon champ Stan Smith, 42.

The following "tricks" come from Elton Strauss, M.D., chief of orthopedic trauma and reconstructive surgery at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital:

* Most people feel early morning is the best time to play. Wrong--especially as you get older. Your muscles are still tight. Later in the day, they've had time to adjust, and your equilibrium is better.

* Don't play right after you eat. When a lot of food is in your stomach, blood concentrates there to fuel the work of digestion. You want that blood free to energize your legs and arms for tennis.

* Eat at least an hour before playing, and eat lightly.

* Stay away from caffeine near game time. It causes an increase in heart rate. Water is best.

* Empty your bladder before you play--your kidneys will function "easier."

* Taking a shower before the game will help loosen you up. But don't take a hot one. A hot shower causes too much blood flow to the skin and actually contracts and tightens your muscles.

* On a cool day, wear layers of clothing, and don't take them off until you're warmed up, again to keep muscles loose. On a hot day, make sure you have extra tops to change into. You want sweat to be able to evaporate--that's what keeps you cool--and it can't do that through a sweat-soaked top.

* Stretch before warming up. Rosie Casals, who still wins tournaments at 41, says that as you get older, your Achilles tendon and calf muscles become more susceptible to injury. "Pay special attention to both while stretching," Stan Smith adds. On the court, warm up slowly, stroking, not smacking, the ball. When serving, go for placement until your arm warms up.

All this preparation will help you get the most out of your body the minute the match begins. Remember that as few as two or three points in a set can make a difference in winning and losing. (An example: in the nearly five-hour final between Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander at the 1988 U.S. Open, Wilander won--but by only 4 points out of the more than 300 played.)

But even preparation can't compensate for the loss of power that's inevitable as you age. "You need to rely more on strategy than on power," Smith says. For instance, have your racquet strung at a lower, or looser tension--but not too loose. You'll sacrifice control, but add more zip to your shots. The recently introduced wide-body racquet produces more power as well.

Shrewdness Counts

The following tactics can help sharpen your game. They come from the former touring pro Roger Dowdeswell, 43, of New York's Columbus Racquet Club. Once among the top 40 players in the world, Dowdeswell is still a premier strategist of the game.

* Never smash volleys. They should be hit at sharp angles into the side corners of your opponent's service box; and that requires touch as opposed to a great swing (the way John McEnroe does it). And you'll save your arm and help avoid severe tendonitis of the elbow (known as tennis elbow).

* Try to hit the corners of the box with your serve. Add slice or sidespin, especially to your second serve. It helps control the ball and prevent double faults.

* Hit overheads into the side corners of your opponent's service box to save energy and strain on your neck and back.

* Concentrate. Take the time between points to visualize where you plan to hit the ball, especially when serving--but never actually look at the target. Opponents may spot your glance and adjust appropriately.

* If you're not doing well, don't berate yourself. That's a waste of energy and diverts your focus from the game. "I've never seen a player in the top 20 lose his temper at himself," Dowdeswell says. "Not even McEnroe. He takes it out on umpires, the crowd, photographers, his opponents, but not on himself."

* In singles, try to change the spin and pace of your shots. (McEnroe seldom hits the ball the same way consecutively.) This will break up your opponent's rhythm and make it almost impossible to predict where your ball is going. In addition, your opponent will be working a lot harder than you on most points.

* In doubles, return serves sharply cross-court. This will keep your net opponent from smacking easy putaways. Develop your lob, especially for use in doubles when opponents are crowding the net.

As Stanley Kallman says: "Shrewdness counts. After all, the last person to hit the ball over the net wins, not the person who technically made the best shot."

Star Players

Actress Cathy Lee Crosby, 40, a former junior tennis champ who played at Wimbledon, still keeps at it--once or twice a week. "60 Minutes" reporter Mike Wallace, 71, plays every Sunday, or more often, and his co-correspondent Morley Safer, 57, is on the court twice a week. Fashion maven Mary McFadden, 50, is a seven-day-a-week player. Rocker John Oates, 41, is at the net every day he's not onstage. Clothing king Calvin Klein, 46, new to the game, is starting strong, playing three hours a week. Composer Jimmy Webb, 43, plays two to three hours a week, often keeping rhythm with singer Art Garfunkel, 47. Designer Adrienne Vittadini, 44, plays every Saturday. "Dynasty" actor John Forsythe, 71, plays on his home court two or three days a week. Dustin Hoffman, 51, beelined for the courts every day last time he visited The Spa at La Costa. Producer Carl Reiner, 67, plays a couple of times a week. Actor Robert Duvall, 58, works out with pros on his home court. Former "Seahunt" star Lloyd Bridges, 76, plays two or three days a week. Chevy Chase, 45, is a member of L.A.'s ritzy Riviera Racquet Club, where he can be located whenever he can get away. Johnny Carson, 64, plays every day on his own $5 million grass court--complete with spectator seating. Eva Gabor, 65, and Merv Griffin, 64, have played in celebrity events for years. If President Bush, 65, didn't have a country to run, he would make daily use of the White House courts.

Aerobic Tennis

For years, tennis has been considered great fun but not great fitness. Exercise experts believed that due to the game's stop-and-go action and the pauses that occur in matches, a player couldn't sustain a high enough heart rate to improve his cardiovascular health.

That supposition appears to be wrong. When a researcher at the University of Arkansas monitored the heart rates of 17 male tennis players aged 18 to 44 during a one-hour singles match, he found they pushed their pulse rates up and kept them up long enough to qualify singles tennis as an aerobic sport.

In a similar study, tennis players who played six to ten hours a week were found to have healthfully low resting pulse rates comparable to people who ran 2 1/2 hours a week.

Of course, doubles play doesn't have the same impact as singles play because, theoretically, you're only doing half the work.

PHOTO : At age 65 President Bush (above) can clobber much younger opponents. Jimmy Connors (left),

PHOTO : in his mid-30s, is still in his tennis prime.

PHOTO : Smart playing helped Chris Evert wear down her opponents and remain a winner in the pro

PHOTO : tennis circuit into her mid-30s.

PHOTO : Ivan Lendl bests opponents with easy overhead shots into the corner rather than hard

PHOTO : smashes down the middle.

PHOTO : John McEnroe employs a mixed-ball strategy: he seldom hits two balls the same way.

PHOTO : Two or three matches a week on the home court keep 71-year-old John Forsythe in playing

PHOTO : trim.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Williams, Sam
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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