The court has been touched by tragedy. On June 30, 1924, President Coolidge's two sons, Calvin Jr. and John, played a match that left 16-year-old Calvin with a blister on the big toe of his right foot. The blister became infected, and seven days later the boy died of blood poisoning.
The court has also been the scene of festivity. When Tricia Nixon got married in 1971, the court was the boisterous setting for the press tent.
Though Nancy Reagan held an annual anti-drug fund-raiser at the White House court that featured celebrities and professional players, Ronald Reagan preferred horseback riding to tennis. "I used to play when I was younger," Reagan said, deadpan, "but I don't anymore because I can't get the horse on the court."
Bush has played tennis since he was a tyke in Greenwich, Conn., where he received lessons on strokes and deportment from his mother, Dorothy, who had been a national-caliber junior player. "She tamed our arrogance," says the President, who was taught that gloating and bragging are unseemly practices in sports. "I will never forget years ago, saying rather innocently, I thought, 'I was off my game.' Mother jumped all over me. 'You are just learning. You don't have a game.' "
Unlike Jimmy Carter, whose penchant for keeping track of who was using the White House court became a symbol of his obsession with micromanagement, Bush does not keep tabs on who plays on the court. But he does like to know who wins and who loses, and he sometimes stops by with Millie, the First Dog, to check out a match. By staying abreast of how well people are currently playing, Bush, who plays only doubles, can rearrange doubles pairings so that matches are as competitive as possible.
A wily southpaw, the President tries to make up for a weak backhand and nonexistent second serve with clever shot-making and a pretty fair volley, overhead and return of serve. In tennis, as in other endeavors, he has his own argot that spices his constant banter on the court. When ahead 5-3, 30-love, Bush might yell, "Two points from immortality!" If he makes a sharply angled volley, he'll crow, "I filleted it." His favorite shot, dubbed "a falling leaf," is a backhand slice return of serve that drops softly at an opponent's feet as the latter is approaching the net. A "power outage" is a weak shot. And "unleashing Chiang" is a not-so-inscrutable warning that a hard shot is coming.
The President loves to bring in ringers. He has played with Andre Agassi, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Ivan Lendl, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Pam Shriver and other pros on this and other courts. And he does not require players to wear whites. According to Fitzwater, "The President doesn't worry much about apparel. He'll show up in a blue shirt and a green baseball cap reading EAST TRUCKING COMPANY and tennis shoes with orange stripes that glow in the dark"—the last in case, no doubt, of a presidential power outage.