Around town the
notion that tennis with Allie is not only soothing but therapy for a variety of
discrete inner difficulties is common. For example, a few years back, in his
bachelor days, Henry Kissinger asked Joan Braden, wife of Columnist Tom Braden,
to take charge of a dinner party for 34 that he was hosting. Arriving at
Kissinger's she found things in a state of unreadiness. First, she fired the
caterers. Then she called Allie for an emergency half hour of tennis. After
that, cool and collected, she went back and took over the dinner preparations.
"Tennis is my tranquilizer," said Joan.
The next pupil is
a slim, athletic, thirtyish woman—call her Carol. She is an old friend of
Allie's but also a friend, or at least acquaintance, of virtually everyone in
town. She is the kind who at one time or another has had a lot going for
her—brains, talent, money, looks, style, influence, publicity—but she is also
one of the kind for whom things somehow always seem to be going subtly sour.
She is accident-prone in a social and emotional way.
Among a great
many things that she has done well is play tennis. She was once a junior player
of promise but because of one of those sour runs she has not been around the
club much during the past year. This morning she is taking somebody's canceled
time. "I have got to get started regularly again with Allie," she says.
"You saw me out there. It was pathetic. My legs feel like my feet have
roots. My friends tell me my whole personality is coming apart because I'm not
playing tennis. One of the problems is that the time that suits me best, Kay
She would just as soon change days, but I don't know if Allie will change
The last lesson
of the morning is with a potential tournament player, a 13-year-old who has
begun to do well locally, wants to do better and has been delivered by his
mother to the club. Ritzenberg begins to work on the boy's ground strokes. The
instructions are sharper, more explicit, less praise is offered. Moving a
stride or two to each side, Ritzenberg begins to run this pupil back and forth
across the court from forehand to backhand until the boy, despite the cool
morning, is wet.
in the 20 years we've known each other, you must have hit 17 million tennis
balls," the boy's mother says. "Are you getting bored with old-lady
tennis, customer tennis, even being an institution?"
really. I'm still interested in the technical problems of teaching, maybe even
in the head problems. I can't knock any of this. I've made a good living out of
the game, met some interesting people, made some good friends. Not bored but I
suppose you might say I'm feeling a little restless. I think about cutting back
on the lesson time.
"I'd like to
spend some time working on my game, start competing regularly. I think I'm one
of the best teachers and I'm proud of that, but competition is in the back of
your mind if you are in sports. It's what got you into the game to begin with.
I've been playing in a few senior tournaments lately and not doing too badly.
Last year I won the indoor singles and doubles championships for my age group
in the U.S. Professional Tennis Association tournament. My strokes are as good
or maybe better in some respects than they were when I was in my 20s. My legs
are very good for my age, but what is missing is playing regularly under
pressure. I'll teach here all morning, grab a flight, go out to Las Vegas or
someplace, go right onto the court. I'll play well for a while. Then I'll get
tight and I'll serve a couple of doubles and my game begins to come apart. It
is lack of concentration and the only way to develop this kind of concentration
is to play in pressure situations. I'd like to give it some time, see how far I
can still go."
after 45 years, all that waving out of the limousine window stuff, you still
want to play the game better?"