"Yesterday," says Irwin afterward, "I had a woman who complained that her son had to play the No. 1 seed. She said, 'It's not fair! It's his first match!' I said, 'Somebody has to.' She took up 40 minutes of my lunch hour trying to get the draw changed."
Irwin says he plays now more than he used to because he has won out over a chronic tennis elbow. "I couldn't lift a coffee cup. For eight years I taught left-handed." Pain, he says, transformed him into an expert on tennis elbows. Four orthopedic surgeons in Denver shoot their problem cases with cortisone and ship them to Irwin to cure. He treats their strokes.
"Tension is the worst," says Irwin. He is heading for the clubhouse and a luncheon. "When I give a lesson, the first thing I look at is the grip. If you hit a ball and your arm feels it, it's wrong. If a racket resonates into your arm you can damage the elbow, the shoulder. Wooden rackets are best because they dampen the shock waves. I sell metal rackets in my shop, but reluctantly.
A pretty dark-haired woman in shorts, dragging a small boy by the hand, intersects Irwin's progress in the clubhouse foyer. Irwin kisses her cheek. "One of my originals," he says expansively. "Oh, how lovely she turned out. Carol, tell this man how it was when we started."
"He dragged us out of the pool to practice," says Carol, expertly fielding the request. "I'd say, 'No, Irwin, it's too hot.' He wouldn't listen. He had us hitting balls over the chaise longues by the pool."
"Yes, and on the fairways of the golf course," Irwin says cheerily. He loves to talk about it. "We used to string off the lines and chalk off the parking lot. When I had all of them out there playing, I'd go complain to the club. 'Somebody's going to get killed!' I was lobbying for more courts. They were furious. The more fuss we made the more enemies I made. I said, 'Gentlemen, I just can't control these kids. They're crazy for tennis.'
"I started a petition to get more courts and I was told I was undermining the club. I had to go to the membership to keep my job. Hey, Carol, is this your boy?"
Irwin bends so that he is nose-level with the woman's son, who gives him a blank look.
"He's ready for you, Irwin."