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Frank Deford
July 09, 1984
Since the days when peach ice cream tasted like peach ice cream, Teddy Tinling's grace and sense of history have meant as much to tennis as his dress designs
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July 09, 1984

A Head To Heed

Since the days when peach ice cream tasted like peach ice cream, Teddy Tinling's grace and sense of history have meant as much to tennis as his dress designs

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"But in America there is this enormous determination to make an identity—a desire to be somebody out of 220 million. That helps explain, I think, why so much more emphasis in America is placed on macho body-contact sports. There's a higher accent placed on virility, and with more rewards.

"Still, I can be so terribly startled when I'm with a good American friend, and I'm made to realize, once again, how insular so many intelligent Americans are. Now there's nothing criminal in that. What isn't right is the American inability to do as the Romans do. I can't tell you how many times, in some corner of the world, I've heard some American whine, 'Well, why the hell can't we get a hamburger?' But then, you've set the pattern in the world for comfort since before my mother's time, so you have good reason to believe you're right—only it really is time that Americans learned that it's not always very tasteful to say so.

"Yet whenever I'm in America I feel as if I've come off the side roads at last. Nothing is too big and nothing is unattainable. And if you don't attain it, it's your own bloody fault. I like that. The first thing I learned on my first visit here, in 1933, was that you've only got 30 seconds to make your number. I was on a chat show several years ago, and the interviewer said, 'Why are you Teddy?' Before I could answer, he said he was going to call me Ted inasmuch as that would save some time. On the other hand, a lot of England gives me more pleasure now. I find myself more English now when I go back, since Mrs. Thatcher has managed to tap the good side of England again, the spirit and the pride I grew up with.

"I never married, and both my brothers died last year, so I have no family. I have had a wonderful lady, Margaret Kirgin, working with me for 25 years. And I've never been lonely. I think I'd be very stupid to be lonely. Then again, I do live a terribly superficial life. I've spent time in almost every major American city, and I don't really know any of them. Maybe my experience is perfectly proper if you're going to be a citizen of the world. Perhaps you shouldn't penetrate any single place."

"That's very well put, Teddy," the Tennis Tyro said.

"Well," he replied straightaway, "that's my job."

The greatest advantage of my age is that I retain, shall we say, a great deal of inherited respect for respect. The saddest thing in life today is the loss of that, because the first thing you lose when you lose respect for respect is respect for yourself.

The Tennis Tyro turned to a fresh page because he wanted to frolic in reminiscences. Teddy's memory is exquisite. Phillipe Chatrier, who's president of the International Tennis Federation and as powerful as anyone in the sport, says, "Teddy is our term of reference. Always, when I need advice or have to make a decision, I like to listen to him because he knows so much background. Nobody would dare tell stories about tennis without thinking what Teddy would say."

He remembers everything, not just the Wimbledons and the cataclysms. "Teddy," the Tennis Tyro said idly, "when did players start grunting when they served?"

"That was 1959," he says. He then provides a long illustrative anecdote about an early grunter.

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