On June 12, at 6 p.m., Jerry showed up in Armonk, N.Y., for an Eastern Tennis Association tournament for players 40 and over. A good showing could put Jerry en route to an age-group ranking in the Eastern section of the USTA. It wouldn't be an ATP computer ranking, but it would do for now.
His opponent was Marc Stromberg, a 45-year-old pharmaceutical salesman from Rockville Centre, N.Y., the 15th-ranked 40-and-over player in the East. Stromberg is ambidextrous, hitting one-handed forehands from both sides and serving righthanded into the deuce court and lefthanded into the ad court. Flummoxed during the warmup by Stromberg's style, Jerry settled down after the match began. He went up 3-1, but his mind began to wander, and he blew his lead by overhitting. He dropped the first set 6-3. In the second set Jerry bore down and won the first four games. But then, for no apparent reason, something snapped and he began spraying balls again. Stromberg caught up, and Jerry lost quietly 6-3, 7-6.
"I had him, but I let him off the hook," Jerry said. "I was playing great, then suddenly I became aware of the spectators, the people on the next court. I just didn't know how to close it out."
I didn't see Jerry for about a week after that. I was busy, and he was occupied with Zoe's graduation and sending Zach off to camp. I figured he had had it, that he would settle for hacking around the club like the rest of us. After all, the recession couldn't last forever, and Jerry could open another studio and go back to his ads and commercials, his broccoli and hams.
"No way," Jerry told me. "I'm giving myself another year. I talked to Krulevitz—he's going to work with me. There's a satellite pro tour segment in Alabama that starts next April, and I'll be playing."
So my friend returned to training. On the patio at the club, the big-shot corporate lawyer practically knocked himself out laughing when he heard about Jerry's plan to keep training. "Hey, I told you guys," the lawyer said. "What a jerk. What a waste of time."
There was silence for a moment, and then Bernard shot the lawyer a hard look. "You wish you had what Jerry has," Bernard said.
"Oh yeah. What's that?" asked the big shot.
"Forget it," said Bernard. "You wouldn't understand."
On June 26, 18 months and one week after he closed his studio, Jerry Friedman defeated Ron Gelles 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of a small tournament in New York City. That night he went out and had a few belts.