The oldest tennis player of my acquaintance is a guy I see at Golden Gate Park every so often named Spencer Kern. Spencer is 85 and still plays tournaments, singles only. As the number of potential opponents in his age bracket dwindles, he travels farther and farther to get matches, usually in his big ol’ 1962 Cadillac, which appears much closer to demise than its owner.
A devout Christian Scientist, there is nothing in his religion that forbids name-dropping. One of the first things Spencer tells you about himself is he once won four games against an eighteen year old Pancho Gonzalez. Obviously, Pancho lost many games in his illustrious career, but still, it’s like striking out Babe Ruth.
Recently Spencer mentioned a tournament he’d be playing the upcoming weekend down near San Jose. There were only three entrants in the over-80 division and Spencer said their names. The first I’ve forgotten; the second was Wayne Thiebaud. THE Wayne Thiebaud? I asked. Spencer ignored me exclamation, but went on to say something about Wayne’s tennis skills—forehand or serve or something—with no reference to the guy’s status as one of the great American artists of the last century, and, so far, this.
Spencer was not dropping Wayne Thiebaud’s name. For all he cared it could have been Joe Blow. And it makes sense. Let’s say you’re putting together a competitive USTA tennis team and some new guy shows up at practice to try out. You don’t care if he’s some famous brain surgeon, or musician, or even if he’s fabulously rich. What you want to know is can he serve, can he play doubles, can he help your team beat the other teams in the league. And thusly, when it comes to opponents his age, Spencer is mostly thinking “warm bodies.”