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Interview with Player Hank Irvine

February 13, 2009 11:51 AM

By: Tori Townsend

Super Senior Grand Prix (SSGP) player, Hank Irvine of Cape Haze, Fla. has collected a slew of men’s 65s doubles titles this year, including wins at Colonial Country Club, Mid-Cape Racquet & Health Club and Academia Sanchez-Casal in Naples. With fives years experience on the professional tour and a semifinal finish in 1972 (mixed doubles) at Wimbledon, Irvine’s history is quite impressive. Before his semifinal match at the USTA Super Senior Grand Prix Category II at Academia Sanchez-Casal, Jan. 26-Feb. 1, Irvine sat down with USTA Florida to discuss his most memorable matches, senior tennis in the state and how he got to where he is today.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your tennis background?
A. I started playing when I was a tiny little kid and my father was a tennis player, so I played tennis all my life. I was born and raised in Rhodesia [now, the Republic of Zimbabwe] so they didn’t have college tennis like they do over here. Then I played on the tennis tour for five years, and when I was over here playing, I stayed with people in New Jersey (NJ) and was offered a job at a club. So in 1973, I became a teaching pro at a club in NJ.

Q. What are some of your most memorable match highlights?

A. I didn’t set the world on fire with my tennis skills, but I did get to the mixed semis at Wimbledon one year and that was kind of fun. In 1972, I played Stan Smith in the second round at Wimbledon, which was the year he won the whole thing. Things like that are always fun to look back at. I also played Davis Cup for two years for Rhodesia and in those days, there was a lot of politics involved, so we had some interesting situations with politics and tennis which was different.

Q. What was your experience at Wimbledon like?
A. It was like going to Heaven. It is the mecca of tennis. You go out there the first time and it is a nerve-racking experience. The one and only time I got to play on center court, I had to go on after the final of the men’s doubles between John Newcomb and Tony Roche verse Ken Rosewall and Fred Stolle, who played for five sets. Then I had to go out there after they played - so it was very nerve-racking. But it was fun and it is an experience I will never forget and will have with me until the day I drop down dead.

Q. What attracts you to the SSGP tournaments?
A. It is a wonderful bunch of guys, there is great camaraderie and it is just fun to be with them and have a good time. We are all enjoying it; the tournaments are very well run and it is nice to get out and compete again.

Q. Why do you play year after year?
A. It is a way of renewing old acquaintances and seeing people that I haven’t seen for awhile. Every athlete at some stage loves to compete, particularly when you haven’t done it for while, so it’s nice to put yourself out on the court and see how you can match up with other players.

Q. How often do you play now?
A. I usually play these two months [on the SSGP circuit], at the National Grass Courts in September, and other than that, I don’t play at all. I have been retired for 10 years and now I just play golf, fish and grow orchids (his hobby). I do play a little tennis at this time of year because it is nice to get out and compete again.

Q. Any advice to younger players?
A. To go out and enjoy every single minute of it. It is such a wonderful sport and has offered me so much and any kid that picks it up now is just in for a great time.

Q. If you could play tennis with three people, who would they be?
A. Lew Hoad, Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzales.

Q. Would you like to add anything else?
A. It is such a wonderful game and I am really blessed that I was able to be part of it and it is one of the few games that you can go play anywhere in the world. If you go to the tennis courts, there is always someone there to play, unlike lacrosse or baseball or football. When you go to other countries, they may not know what baseball or football is, but they know tennis.

* Picture Caption: (l-r): Joe Bachman and Hank Irvine, men's 65s doubles champions, SSGP at Colonial Country Club

 

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