It was at a tournament held at the University Club court in the Bay Area. Since my first match was scheduled at 10 p.m., I did not leave Reno until around 5 o’clock in the evening. Since I had a busy work day until that time, I had phoned my wife Ann and asked her to pack my overnight bag.
The three-hour trip to San Francisco went smoothly, and I arrived at the courts on time.
However, when I opened my bag I could not find my tennis shoes, a very necessary piece of equipment. None of the other players around had a pair of extra shoes that would fit me. Accordingly, a squash-playing buddy of mine and I jumped in the car and headed for Chinatown where we hoped to find a store that was still open. We did so but the largest pair of tennis shoes that was available were size 10, a full two sizes too small. With no other choice available, it was either purchase the shoes or forfeit the match.
Returning to the University Club, shoes in hand, I entered the court just in time. Hobbling about in the too-tight foot gear, I managed to lose the first two games of the five-game contest. The third game, as well as the fourth, were extra-long affairs that saw a number of ties before I was able to prevail. By the fifth game, the value of playing at high altitude in Reno became apparent as a nearly-exhausted Marken could offer little or no resistance.
Later on that evening, my squash friend told me that he had counted 18 match points for Marken, which meant if he had hit a “winner,” or if I had “struck the tin” on the front wall, the match would have been over. It was several years before the downcast Marken was able to forget that stirring encounter. As for myself, I lost my next match due to severe blisters on all 10 toes.
On another occasion, still at the University Club, I was scheduled for a very late first match against a young player from the University of California, Berkeley. He was extremely aggressive and determined to knock the “old man” off the “T” — the “T” being the center of the court and a commanding position from which to win the point. On several occasions, particularly on backhand shots, he would crowd me so close I was unable to get a clear shot at the ball. I would repeatedly advise him to get out of the way, but he paid me no heed. Finally, I took a strong backhand swing and knocked out his two front teeth. The match was over at that point, and we spent several minutes retrieving his teeth.
A few years later I chanced to draw him in another tournament, and the first thing he did was flash me a wide grin that featured his two front teeth that had been successfully reattached.
He had no difficulty staying out of my way during this match.
One of the interesting things about the courts at the University Club was that they were ventilated by two large skylights on the roof that kept the court at a cool 65 degrees, a perfect temperature in which to play squash. I can remember on one occasion playing in an after-midnight match, with the sky lights open and the cold night air coming in that caused visible steam to rise from both mine and my opponent’s sweating bodies.
The only time my wife accompanied me to a squash tournament was one in Seattle. When I showed up for my first match, my opponent looked like a white Sonny Liston. I was warned that he was a very physical player. I soon found this to be true as he opened a cut above my eyebrows with his racquet. That was the first of many times the match had to be stopped to wipe the blood off the court. I managed to get in a few good licks myself, and by the time we finished we both sported blood-stained shirts. My wife refused to go to any more matches after that.
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.