"How old is he?"
"Four and three-quarters."
"Bring him around and I'll have him throw me a ball." Irwin straightens. "It's a test. If he can get it to me five or six times in a row he's ready. Throwing is a related action. That's one of the problems I have with the ladies."
On this day, Irwin is presiding over a women's luncheon on the club terrace overlooking the pool. As a special treat, the women will hear Pam Austin of the Denver Racquets, the WTT team, and some of Irwin's juniors will model new fashions. He has 58 worth of decorated balls and a lace-lined racket cover for door prizes and the patio tables are decorated with red-and-white carnations protruding from empty Wilson ball cans.
"Most of my problems are with women," says Irwin, glancing around. He has partially filled his plate with cold cuts and relish items from the buffet line, and between disinterested bites parries a run of table-hoppers.
"I love 'em but the women are tough as hell," he says. "The thing is they're new to competition. They never had to pass through the poor-sport stage. Men have usually outgrown it by the time they're in high school. Most women playing tennis are now into that stage. Except they're not 14, they're 40.
"During a tournament I pay one of my assistants $5 an hour just to field the women's gripes. I tell him, 'Whatever you do, smile. In every circumstance, no matter how ridiculous, smile." Irwin demonstrates with a toothy grimace.
"I have a machine at home that saves my life. The machine takes complaints on a tape, from 10 to 12 daily. They yell at me on that tape. They beat me to pieces. 'My boy lost because you didn't teach him a backhand volley!' They hate my machine because it doesn't talk back. When they've calmed down, I call them."
The framework of tennis shifts and broadens to accommodate the newness, to admit strange new stimuli. A star-struck Denver mother is sending her daughter to Australia to polish her game, though the girl is not good enough to win at home. At the venerable Denver Tennis Club, a local judge arrives from his bench daily for a regular noon match, and in the winter a foursome whose ages begin in the 70s still comes every morning; sometimes they must push the snow off in order to play.
The Denver Tennis Club was founded in 1928, and has 12 courts, all outdoors. It is still strictly tennis, but is increasingly co-ed. Sherrie Pruitt, who used to beat Stan Smith when they were growing up in California, was once the pro, and the manager is a 27-year-old practical nurse with big brown eyes named Mary Spalding. Women are now on the various competition ladders, four in the coveted "A" group, challenging the best male players for spots up-ladder. Matches are arranged by phone. Miss Spalding, herself on the "A" ladder, says the men don't usually call the women.