this was a useful period. "I learned how to teach anybody," Ritzenberg
says. "I mean anybody, no matter what age or background. I showed them how
to improve and to get more pleasure out of the game. The tradition then was for
a teaching pro to concentrate on players with competitive possibilities, good
young athletes, but there aren't very many of them, which is why few people
were making a living teaching tennis. I work with tournament players or
potential tournament players. That kind of teaching is interesting from a
technical standpoint. If the good athletes come to me, fine, but I don't go
looking for them. I get as much satisfaction and probably make more money from
taking somebody who may not have much ability and showing him how to improve.
All my pupils have a distinctive style. It is very fluid and relaxed. I've been
told there is a similarity between the kind of tennis I teach and the ballet.
The idea is to enjoy the feeling, the movement of the body rather than just
enjoying scoring points. I teach pleasure tennis."
Ritzenberg had worked himself into a strong position in Washington. He had
taken over and refurbished four courts at the old Wardman Park Hotel. Shortly
thereafter he set up the first public indoor facility in the capital, a court
in a residential area near the National Institutes of Health (he currently has
an interest in eight indoor courts). About this time the New Frontiersmen
arrived. "They had a feeling that the good life was the strenuous
life," Ritzenberg fondly recalls.
spring day in 1961, Ritzenberg received a call that the President's wife would
like to receive tennis lessons on the White House court.
have the athletic background of some of the Kennedys, but she was well
coordinated and improved her game considerably," Ritzenberg says.
Very shortly the
word was around town that Jackie was playing tennis and Jack was watching and
that their pro was Allie Ritzenberg and therefore tennis was terrific and old
Allie was terrific. There was a terrific run on courts, rackets and
sensitive to the suggestion that he is a Camelot creation on the order of
Pierre Salinger, Sunday touch football and the Peace Corps. He points out that
he had learned the hard way how to teach his classy brand of pleasure tennis
long before the Kennedys cut any ice as trend setters; that he had been
assiduously promoting the game when few others thought it chic.
The reasons may
be debated, but indisputably Washington went—and has remained—bananas about
tennis. Ritzenberg is a classic example of a man in the right place at the
right time. Happiness in town became getting on one of Ritzenberg's courts;
true bliss was taking lessons from Allie. The 10 half-hour teaching sessions
Ritzenberg offers on each of his five weekly working days were so sought-after
that they became hot raffle and door-prize items at charity and political fund
Among those whom
Ritzenberg has taught and whom out-of-towners might be expected to recognize
are the Ache-sons, Bakers, Bayhs, Busches, Buchwalds, Cafritzes, Califanos,
Dominicks, Eagletons, Flanigans, Grahams, Heinzes, Hoffbergers, Javitses,
Kennedys, Lindsays, McCarthys, McGoverns, McNamaras, Mondales, Peabodys, Pells,
Percys, Restons, Rockefellers, Rowans, Scotts, Stevensons, Sorensons,
Symingtons, Tunneys, Tydingses, Wickers, Zimmermans.
A peculiarity of
Washington-Ritzenberg tennis is that early morning, the earlier the better, is
the prized time to take a lesson or play. It is generally conceded that Robert
McNamara had a good bit to do with establishing this custom. "Bob showed up
right on the dot at seven on his days," says Ritzenberg. "He would be
reading a paper when he got there. He'd put it down, get out of his car and
walk onto the court. We'd go exactly half an hour and he'd get back in the car
and go off to the Pentagon."
The early slot
was presumably both a matter of convenience and necessity for a Secretary of
Defense, World Banker or the equivalent. But it is also designed to put
pressure on nonequivalents. After all, if Bob is playing at dawn, who wants to
look so idle, so little in demand as to be seen taking lessons in the warm