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After a thump against a curb, a near miss of a towering palm and a 360 in mid-block, the Pontiac Grand Prix came to a screeching halt in front of a Neighbor-savor food store in La Jolla. The little old lady from Santa Monica climbed down off her pillow and out from behind the steering wheel.
"Like my hood ornament?" she asked her pals as they piled out of the car. She pointed to a figure of a curvaceous woman holding a tennis racket. "Did it myself. Yanked it off one of my trophies. Then I just screwed it on the hood. Adds a little class, don't you think?"
The little old lady from Santa Monica began waving her arms, orchestrating her troops-left, right, full steam ahead. "Now everybody gets two minutes to go through the store and pick out munchies," she said. "We need sustenance for the poker game."
With that, everyone scattered, returning with potato chips, corn curls, cheese puffs, dips, soda, cheese and crackers. "Let's get two six-packs," she said, watching the mound at the cash register grow. "Oh, oh. It says you've got to show an ID to buy beer." She started rummaging through her purse.
"Will my driver's license do?"
"Ma'am, you look old enough to me," said the teen-age cashier with a giggle. The register rang out the damage: $27.45.
"Thank goodness," she said. "Jeepers, the only proof of age I have is gray hair and varicose veins."
Meet Dodo Cheney, mother of three, grandmother of seven, youngest daughter in the First Family of American tennis, neighborhood zucchini queen, abalone fisherman, card shark, creator of secret arthritis remedies and winner of more U.S. national tennis titles—114—than anyone who has ever played the game. Whoa. Run that past again. Dodo Cheney? More national championships than anyone? What about Bill Tilden? Nope. He only had 31. Billie Jean King? She's won 30. How about Chris Evert Lloyd? Just 18. Dodo's nearest pursuer is 68-year-old Gardnar Mulloy, and he's won a mere 55.
So why haven't you heard of her? Well, Dodo never won a title at Wimbledon or Forest Hills—though both her parents did. And while Evert Lloyd et al. were typically winning national championships by the time they were 11, Dodo didn't really get started until she was 40, with the U.S. 40-and-over Women's Hard Court singles in 1957. She would win that tournament—in the same age division—every year until she was 53. Now that Dodo has turned 65, she finally has consented to play with people closer to her own age. For the record, her U.S. titles, which have come on all surfaces, break down this way: clay court singles, indoor doubles, hard court doubles, 35-and-over doubles (commonly referred to as 35 doubles, the same being true of other senior age categories), 45 doubles, mother-daughter—one each; 40 singles—17; 40 doubles—14; 50 singles—five; 50 doubles—eight; 55 singles—13; 55 doubles—nine; 60 singles—16; 60 doubles—10; 65 singles—five; 65 doubles—two; senior mixed doubles—nine. Dodo won her most recent national championships just last week, the 65 grass court singles and doubles in Wilmington, Del. All this makes her a one-woman dynasty, the likes of which the game had never before known.
On the court—and at the poker table—Dodo wraps herself in lace, pleated pastels, puffy caps, pearls, beads, bangles and charm bracelets. "The girls today don't look like girls when they're on the court. They look like men," says Dodo, who cooks up a new outfit for several of the dozen or so tournaments she plays each year. "The players look too tough. For me, there's never too much perfume or lace." But don't let her looks fool you. Dodo is a canny old bird. She relies primarily on a looping Western forehand and chases down just about everything. Then, when her opponent is convinced she has settled in on the baseline, Dodo sneaks up to the net and puts her away with dinks and drops.