It had been 30 years since I had played on clay but the joy flooded back. The warmup was slow and languorous, the court seemed bigger, not bad bigger, but bigger with possibilities and places to explore.

Without sounding arrogant, I was magnificent. Call me what you will — the California Cannon, the Bakersfield Bomber, the Westchester Wizard. Whatever it was, I was conducting a clay court clinic.

I won the first set 6-0. Now, I had a problem. I was Jim's guest; Jim furnished the balls and I was playing on Jim's home court. Do you want to beat Gentlemen Jim 6-0, 6-0? That didn't seem right.

No, it didn't, however it is tricky to tank. I don’t like to tank. I didn’t want to patronize Gentleman Jim by tanking, which can be more insulting than absorbing a beatdown from the Bakersfield Bomber.

Fortunately, Jim won a game, then another, but eventually Gentleman Jim bit the clay court dust.

The Westchester Wizard was too strong, too gifted and too much of a natural clay court player. We shook hands and began to talk about kids, grandkids and careers.

"In November, when I turn 75, I'm going to take my son and 15-year-old grandson on a fishing trip to Jackson Hole," he said.

The only part of that sentence I heard was the "when I turn 75." Gentleman Jim was 75? Twelve years older than me?

Seventy-five is not old. If you're 90, then a 75-year-old is like a spring chicken. However, in tennis years — which are akin to dog years — 12 years is like a century with a couple of world wars thrown in.

I'd beaten the best 75-year-old player in Blue Hill, Maine. There was probably something to feel good about, but the celebration might not include a lot of fist pumping, lying spread eagled on the court after the match or thanking my team during the post-match interview.

We chatted for a few minutes. He invited me over for a beer. Gentleman Jim had won this round.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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