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Anyone - Over 85 Years Old - For Tennis?

September 8, 1990

BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) _ While tennis players as young as 14 battled at the U.S. Open tournament in New York City, veterans as old as 91 clashed on the turf in this Boston suburb.

The competition at the Longwood Cricket Club was for the National 85 & Over Grass Court championships. That’s 85 as in years old.

″I say the undertaker’s going to wait until I finish the set,″ said Ken Beer, the 87-year-old defending champion from Hillsborough, Calif.

The amateur men-only championships ended Saturday with Beer defeating third-ranked Herbert Hauser, 85, of Twinsburg, Ohio, 7-6, 6-4.

That concluded five days of tennis that included the James H. Rogers Challenge Bowl for players over 70, over 75, and over 80.

More than 120 men with at least seven decades under their belts stretched, grunted and lunged for the titles at the exclusive 113-year-old club.

The fourth annual 85 plus contest drew 27 players. One player in other 85- plus tournaments couldn’t make this one because he was in Switzerland on his honeymoon.

The players share a deep love of the game, some good basic skills, and some dark humor about the twilight of their careers.

″I’ll give it up when I drop,″ said Phoenix resident Thomas J. Glover, the ranking player in the tournament at 91. The oldest competitor usually on the tour, 92-year-old Albert Leitch, was suffering from an eye ailment.

The Longwood contest is one of four national tennis tournaments on the 85- and-over circuit. This year, the others were held indoors at Boise, Idaho, on hard courts at Santa Barbara, Calif., and on clay at Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The octogenarians generally dress in the Wimbledon tournament tradition of white. And while some brandish the latest in technology - oversized, superlight, brightly colored rackets - theirs is a finesse game now. They rely on spin and touch rather than strength and speed.

Still, the competition is tough.

″They all want it. I just played singles with one of my best friends,″ said James Rogers of Waban after his first-round loss. ″He drove shots down my neck when he could, and I did the same. There’s just no mercy shown when you’re on the tennis court.″

Beer keeps his edge by playing up to five sets most days, and pounding 1,000 balls whenever he takes his ball machine on court. He took up the tournaments after retiring from his career as an airline pilot.

″I don’t do anything specific to keep in shape,″ he said. ″People ask me what I eat. I say, ’Anything that’s in front of me.‴

Tournament winners walk away with a tiny gold ball, which by tradition is fashioned into a pendant for their wives. Hauser’s wife, Polly, 79, and Barbara Reynolds, 78, of Haddonfield, N.J., sported theirs as they cheered on their husbands from the club patio.

″Half of the time we talk and we watch all the time. But there’s no rivalry,″ said Reynolds. ″We just listen to their stories and they keep repeating the same stories all the time ... who won in 1940 and things like that.″