San Francisco – July 2009


S.F. Hero: Court Angel Strikes Again

In the middle of the city’s red ink bath — when Rec and Park and virtually all departments were absorbing staggering cuts — up pops San Francisco’s court angel again.

This time, the anonymous family that donates resurfacing citywide said through a spokesman that the Larsen Park tennis court had been done in May, and the park’s basketball court, too. Doing the surfaces on 19th Ave. between Wawona and Vicente streets was Vintage Contractors of San Francisco. Make no mistake, The City has no dollars to lavish on tennis, and court maintenance has been a depressing issue for years.

The resurfacings bring the total to nine courts that the single family trust has provided San Francisco with in the last five years. The others are: four tennis courts and one basketball court at Julius Kahn Park in ‘04; and one court each at the Silver Terrace and Christopher Playgrounds in ‘07.

“While the family wishes to remain anonymous and is continuing to seek and fund future projects,” the spokesman said, “they thought it would be great to publicize the fact the city is receiving donations that fill a void in public recreation services left by the current tough economic times and years of neglect.”

The spokesman cited other donations coming from the Fisher Family, Parks Trust and the people behind the Alta Plaza court overlays done five years ago.

The family’s next project, the spokesman said, was likely Hamilton Park’s two courts on Geary Ave. The rebuilding of the adjacent Hamilton Recreation center will be finished in December. The courts, once a weekend haven for serious players but now unplayable for their cracks and weeds, would get attention in 2010.

Lincoln’s Lam Wins City High School Title

Lincoln sophomore Ben Lam ended Lowell’s 11-year domination of the CIF San Francisco boys’ high school singles championship by upsetting top-seeded sophomore Brandon On of Balboa 6-6-3, 7-6(3) in the finals at Golden Gate Park in May.

Lam let a 5-2 second-set lead slip away, as On reduced his baseline errors to tie it at 6-all and force a winner-take-all tiebreaker. But On’s mistakes, including two double faults, returned, and Lam’s steadiness won out.

Lam became the first Mustang since Yaro Vinogradsky in ‘97 — and only the fourth since the records began 98 years ago — to win the high school boys’ title. He did it by camping at the baseline and avoiding the net.

“I just tried to make him miss and take him down mentally,” the third-seeded Lam said. “My volleys are horrible.”

Lam, coached by three-time City men’s Open champ Billy Ball, benefited from the second round default of defending champion and Lowell senior Frank Lu. Advance Placement testing for college made Lu late to his match at the park. Lu said he knew his timing was risky, but the test’s makeup date later that he could have chosen conflicted with Lowell’s participation, as The City’s team champs, in the NorCal CIF playoffs. Lu chose to compete with the team and chance the city tournament.

The week before, when Lowell beat Lincoln 6-1 in the team finals, Lu defeated Lam 6-4, 7-5 at No. 1.

Lowell coach Jim Rosenheim said five Lowell players missed the city tournament because of AP testing. Lu, a three-time city champ, won the singles in ‘08 and the doubles in ‘07 and ‘06.

Youth was served in doubles, too. Sophomore Juan Garcia and freshman David Konstantinov of Galileo won the doubles having never played together before. Each had played singles all season, but coach Maria Ramos thought they could win, despite their obvious lack of experience.

SFTC: A Return to Glory

It’s simply an immovable object, an indestructible force, the Phoenix that rises from the ashes. Call it what you may, but the San Francisco Tennis Club, arguably the anchor for the sport in Northern California, refuses to go away. It’s a facility with more reincarnations than a devout Hindu by the Ganges.

San Francisco Tennis Club

In the ‘70s, it was a hub of hip activity, the cool go-to recreational site. There was Arthur Ashe giving a reach-out-to-the-community clinic or John McEnroe practicing on Court 2. Ethel Kennedy hosted a celeb fundraiser; Pavarotti punched volleys; Sugar Ray Leonard showed off his wheels. In more recent years, Brad Gilbert and Andre Agassi could be seen slugging it out during inspired practice sessions, or you might catch a dual-match against Pac-10 foes Cal and UCLA. Plus, the club became a lets-make-a-deal focal point for top execs.

But over the years, SFTC endured every possible kind of setback: a slow decline in the game, management changes and different owners, while downtown facilities from L.A. to Manhattan folded (as real estate prices soared). Times they were a changin’. Profit-hungry companies soon sought to tear down one of the few great recreational venues (think chic SoMa condos) in The City; one of those rare places where you could get some physical activity on a rainy day. However, this proved an instance in which you could take your fight to City Hall to protect a beloved institution. In other words, the club’s passionate and powerful membership came together, flexed its political muscle and fought tirelessly. The savvy effort to save the club (which included a demonstration on the same site upon which Harvey Milk, anti-war protestors and civil rights activists once did their thing) changed San Francisco law.

SFTC survived, thanks largely to a membership that refused to let go of a good thing. Now a new ownership group — Western Athletic Clubs — has stepped in and is committed to shining up the once mighty ship. The regionally based recreation company, known for its community orientation, takes over the club with the idea to restore it and bring back the shimmer of its glory days. Home to a dozen indoor, climate-controlled, U.S. Open-blue PlexiPave courts, and a like number of rooftop PlexiCushion courts, SFTC now offers private and group lessons and clinics, game- and event-organizing services, USTA League play, a pickup doubles program, singles circuits, intra-club tournaments and a junior academy. The club’s Junior Summer Camp (June 8-Aug. 21) caters to players of all abilities (ages 8-17), and will be split into two unique programs: Junior Development Tennis and High Performance casino online Tennis. Each weekly camp is led by certified USPTA pros and features Wii Tennis Fridays and more.

In late June, SFTC plans to launch a $2.5 million renovation project that will encompass revamped locker rooms, a new lobby and café, and an upgraded viewing deck. All of which is a testament to Western AC’s commitment to the membership.

“They’re not real estate people, they’re club people,” SFTC GM Larry Krieger said of the club’s new owners. “This club has always been a special place. It went through its ups and downs over the years, but it’s finally found a home with people who really care about building up the tennis.”

The new alignment means SFTC can now offer membership plans that package other Western AC-owned clubs. The Club West plan means you can access all nine of Western AC’s Bay Area clubs — SFTC, the Bay Club Financial District, Bay Club Marin (Corte Madera), Courtside Club (Los Gatos), Decathlon Club (Santa Clara), Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club (S.F.), Pacific Athletic Club (Redwood City), The San Francisco Bay Club and The Gym-Tiburon.

“There are 56 tennis courts in the system,” said Krieger. “You can live in San Francisco and play in The City, then go down to Los Gatos and play on the weekend. It’s astonishing.”

Also available is an Executive Club membership, which includes the five San Francisco clubs.

“Everyone thought that the tennis boom was in the ‘70s, the ‘80s,” added Krieger. “But the real tennis is happening now. We’ve got people who come out to socialize. We’ve got 20 USTA teams. People watch matches between the pros. We host special wine and cheese parties. People here really do get into their tennis.”

In Brief

Golden Gate Park nostalgia buffs will remember the tennis boom that brought droves to the courts in the ‘70s. Among them were Frank Davis and his father, Ben. “I started going out there in the mid-’70s and Dad followed me, riding a bicycle,” Frank Davis told Inside Tennis recently. “You had to lie, cheat and steal to get a court then.” He remembered the “parade” of regulars’ and ticked off some their names — Arnie Rotbert, Laura Lucas, George Pontikoff, Bill Fine, Don Asher, Nick Jordan, the Louie kids, the Murios and the Shepards. His father once played in a Turkey Day tournament there and got “stuck” with Rosie Casals, he recalled with a chuckle. But it all suited Ben Davis, a determined but struggling intermediate player who later played closer to home on the DuPont courts at 30th Ave. He quit tennis when he got Parkinson’s disease in his 80s. But Ben Davis broke all the stereotypes of tennis players. With his steel gray crew cut, stern demeanor and penetrating eyes, he looked the part of the lanky, no nonsense working stiff. He was, in fact, the manufacturer of famously tough clothes bearing his name. And he wore a Ben Davis shirt and pants every day. Frank became company president in ‘72 and bought out his dad in ‘95. Popular enough with workers, the brand by then had caught on with hip youngsters, too. The words “Ben Davis slacks” appear in a Kid Rock song. Earlier this year Ben Davis died in his Seacliff home. He was 95. Frank Davis lives in Kentfield.