Magazine article The Spectator

Young Men's Games

Magazine article The Spectator

Young Men's Games

Article excerpt

Well, I guess it was not to be. The last time I was in an international tennis tournament final was 37 years ago. In Khartoum of all places. My first round opponent was a local player who actually starved to death just before the match. In the semis I met a young German whose father may or may not have been Martin Bormann. I say this because he only played in South American and African tournaments, never venturing to Europe or the United States. In the final I met an Egyptian player whom I beat but who later revealed to me that Nasser had kept him in jail since 1952. It was, nevertheless, my finest hour.

Tennis was great fun back then. I travelled with Nico Kalogeropoulos, who won Junior Wimbledon as well as the French in 1963. In Greece we lost only one doubles match in some 20 odd years. It all started in Dublin, 33 years ago. Nico, two other players and I arrived at the Fitzwilliam tennis club on a cold April day entering the Davis Cup competition for the first time. At the Shelbourne Hotel we watched in wonderment as the Irish team prepared for the tie by downing large amounts of whiskey. After the second day the banner headlines read: `Ireland leads Greece 2-1; victory is expected today'. The Irish celebrations continued even after the last two matches had gone our way. I believe it was their number two, Hickey, who suddenly proclaimed, 'Fuckin' hell, we lost.' A fight between the Irish players ensued, followed by a tearful reconciliation. Finally, they all got together and beat up the Davis Cup captain, or so rumour had it.

Last week, after an interlude of 37 years, I was again in an international veterans tennis tournament final, but in a losing effort. My only excuse was a very long semi-final against a Swiss who may or may not have hoarded Nazi gold. The Austrian who beat me in the final is an experienced tournament player who swore to me that he was never a Hitler youth. …

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