I finished the article and sat there thinking about it for quite a little while. It was so different from other sports-page reading of late. The bold print in The New York Times reports TENNIS STRUGGLES WITH AN UNCOURTLY IMAGE and PLAYERS SPOILED, SURVEY FINDS. The cover copy of a tennis magazine asks HAS SPORTSMANSHIP GONE OUT OF THE GAME? A photo shows Nastase gesturing with his finger, another shows Connors doing his crotch-grab, a third shows McEnroe breaking his racket with his foot.
We former teammates, who all still followed the sport, talked about this as we dined in Hanover. We talked as well about jobs, families, the old days at school. Mostly we talked about Coach.
"Know why he's leaving?" a friend asked me.
"I haven't talked to him about it," I said, "but I assume he and Mrs. K. want to go back down South. I hear they bought a place in North Carolina."
"I'm sure that's part of it," he said, "but I understand Coach is fed up. It started about five years ago. Hell, we saw it starting when we were here, but I guess it really took hold about five years ago. He started having more problems with his players. They wouldn't listen to him; they were McEnroe kids. When he'd tell them about sportsmanship, or when he'd discipline them, these guys would look at him like he was some old guy who didn't have a clue."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah," he said. "He won't talk about it, though. I don't know if it makes him sad or makes him think he failed. He can't fight it, so he'll just retire."
"He figured he couldn't coach anymore," said another friend. "You can't coach someone you can't talk to."
"You can't coach someone who's playing a different game," said the first friend.
I looked around the room for Coach. I scanned the 50 people who had gathered to honor him. I noticed for the first time that I knew most of them, that the youngest among us had been in school when I had been. Coach had led several teams since, but the players hadn't shown up.