Just so you know, I am wildly in love with tennis… and so what you see above in that fun photo is what I call a little bit of heaven that makes me smile every time I look at it. The setting: the Palm Springs, California airport arrival gate about 16 years ago. And yes, the two men in good spirits were waiting for my plane – a plane that had been delayed in getting in for far too long. On the left – well, it is the Australian tennis legend Ken Rosewall and on the right, my dearest friend – head of Carnation Milk International, a man who had more connections than anyone I ever knew. The two men were friends extraordinaire.
An invitation I could not resist had been put out to me: Ken Rosewall was going to be in Palm Springs and – get this – “would love to play tennis with me.” I knew in my heart that Ken was rolling his eyes over the thought. Friendship though does strange things to people. They sometimes smile and agree to go along with this nonsense. Ken did anyhow, which told me he had to be an extraordinarily nice and agreeable man, full of fun. That quality alone was to be irresistible.
I will tell you right now that I did not bring my tennis racket, long stashed in the back of my closet. But just the fun aspects of watching Ken play in Palm Springs and then sharing so much free time with the two men for several days was the “carrot” that had me flying across the country. When I saw Ken Rosewall holding that sign, I was a young kid again, captivated. All right, the truth… I melted right there.
Ken actually was “set up” by my friend. He actually thought he would have to go a few rounds with this much raved-about friend by the name of Joan. But my “no way” had to be understandable and NO, he did not leap for joy when he realized he wasn’t going to have to go through torture… well, at least in my presence he didn’t. Instead, the three of us spent so much time laughing, sharing stories, dining, and always, always, in such high spirits over the next 48 hours that I still feel it was “a time apart” from life — before or since.
The small wooden racket on that card greeting me – complete in all its details – greets me every morning on the door of my refrigerator, reminding me of that time with Ken and my friend that I am never going to forget.
For the last 30 years I have watched all 4 tennis opens – French, Wimbledon, U.S., and the Australian. . . and just one time went to Melbourne in January to see it in person and get a glimpse of Ken Rosewall, a man born to play tennis and “the great in the Golden Age of tennis”, once again. The tennis facility beats out by far all other venues in the world and is a wonderful place to be. But normally, the temperature rises to well over 100 degrees in summer in Australia. Don’t go. You will feel like you are being roasted to death on a spit. Promise me you won’t!! But just take a look at the beauty of this facility to kill for below.
For Ken Rosewall, sitting in the stands this week, the final is going to be a “clutcher”. For the last time a tennis champion won three Australian titles in a row (1971-1973) it was smiling Ken Rosewall who set THE record, still unbroken. There is one chance that he could be knocked off that high pedestal this year. One! And no, it won’t be Nadal!
And so, in the middle Wednesday of the second week of the tournament and beyond, I am going to pretend I am sitting next to one of the most fun men on earth, waiting until those Sunday finals. Perhaps he will present the trophy. We will see soon. No matter what though, one of Ken’s records will remain unbroken – I am sure it will be forever. At age 38 and a half – old age in the tennis world now – he had won his last Open title. His name on that one will be up in lights forever. . . and I will always know that for two of the most fun days and evenings of my life long ago, Ken Rosewall, my friend and I had a blast of a time.
It was love – love all the way.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.