August 23, 2005 > Lawn tennis, anyone?
Lawn tennis, anyone?
by Venkat Raman
Have you ever thought of playing tennis on the famous lawn courts of Wimbledon? We have our very own mini-Wimbledon grass court in the Tri-City area thanks to the efforts of Dr. Alejandrino Lola. Lola, a family medical practitioner, is the proud owner of the only grass tennis court in Northern California that features an annual United States Tennis Association sanctioned tournament; however, you need to be a male and at least 75 years old, to participate in a match.
Lola hails from Manila, Philippines and has lived in the United States for over five decades. He has the distinction of being the first contracted emergency room doctor at Washington Hospital in 1966 and served for four years as director of the emergency department.
Lola has had a long association with the game of tennis. At first, he installed a clay court on his property. That court remained for 12 years until he felt like experimenting and decided to replace the clay with grass. Now, the doctor is getting the itch to play on clay again and plans to add one to his property.
The grass court uses creeping bentgrass, Agrostis Palustris. This is a particularly hardy variety that handles close mowing making it suitable for a tennis court. It is propagated through seeds and the turf is easily repaired. This is the same type of grass used on the lush courts of Wimbledon. Lola points out that tennis on a grass court is quite different from regular clay courts; the ball is faster, the court feels like a carpet and surface imperfections make the ball bounce somewhat unpredictably. Also, morning games are not feasible due to wet grass. However, he noted, these aspects are what add character to the game.
Lola is no stranger to organizing USTA sanctioned tournaments. "I have been running USTA tournaments since 1966," recalled Lola, "I have organized them in different places. There was a tournament at Cal State University, Hayward where I donated the money generated to scholarships."
Before converting to a grass court, Lola hosted a number of competitions on the clay court. "We used to have top players from Northern California participate. We have had players from Australia, England, and Czechoslovakia. We offer prize money and that attracts good players," said Lola. He proudly added that his tournaments have brought the city of Newark international attention.
The 2005 senior tournament was held August 11-13. For those used to stark, hard courts enclosed by a chain link fence, Lola's court is a refreshing change. The atmosphere is informal, allowing the action to unfold at a relaxed pace. One of the winners on August 11 was Alex Swetka who has been playing tennis since 1948, but hardly ever on grass courts. This is his first year at the Newark tournament. "Playing on grass is different," said Swetka. "You can't just step on it for a day or two and play your best. You have to really adjust to it."
While Swetka traveled from relatively nearby Mountain View to play Art Kimber of Fremont, the next match of the day drew people from farther out; Leonard Malherbe of Mill Valley was to face Glenn Peterson of Salt Lake City, Utah. Peterson said, "I always wanted to play on grass. We don't have a single grass court in the entire state of Utah." He beamed, "When I step on this court it would be the first time I have ever played on grass. I am looking forward to it!"
Peterson's opponent Malherbe has played here before. He is, in fact, the defending champion from last year. "I have been playing tennis for 70 years. My first tournament win was 66 years ago," reminisced Malherbe.
He has played on Lola's court for 10 years since witnessing the transition from clay to grass. "I have won this tournament last two years and I hope I can do it again," said Malherbe. He added, "This is a small, but friendly tournament. Grass is a great surface to play on. The ball doesn't come up as high, and it is not true on the bounce because grass is not a flat surface like cement. But it is much easier on the legs and the body - it is like playing on a carpet." Malherbe identified New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts as the only other states where grass court tournaments are held in the United States.
Kimber returned to this tournament after a five year sabbatical because he enjoys playing against Lola and credits the doctor with great finesse in his play. He had his work cut out for him playing Swetka, who has represented the U.S. in tournaments for seniors 85 and above, but finished successfully.
To find out more about this one-of-a-kind court, call Dr. Al Lola at (510) 797-9776. If you are a male tennis player above 75 years old, you owe it to yourself to give this tournament a try next year.