Wednesday, June 04, 2014

CLIF. NOT CLIFF.

                                     


                           He was Clif—for Clifton—not Cliff for Clifford.   Named after his dad, a giant, everyone called him Clif.



An original first name wasn’t the only thing that was unique about him.


            He talked out of the corner of his mouth.  He was wiry—almost spindly—and never ate a healthy meal in his life (ok, I’m exaggerating--slightly) .  Subsisting on See’s Candies and Coca Cola he put the lie to the Paleo Diet and all healthy eating.

            His favorite story about Maggie (my mom) was how she taught him how to swear at an opponent in a tennis match without them ever knowing.

            Her trick?  Clinch your teeth in a fake smile and say under your breath (while looking the opponent right in the eye), “you dirty SOB, you cheated—that ball was in.” 

            Clif had a bit of a temper and he always credited Maggie with teaching him how to tame it.

            Maggie wasn’t exactly like other women tennis players back then.  Winner of the National 18 and unders in ’39, by the time she met Clif after the War, she would go on to California State Titles with Dodo Bundy (Cheney), while raising three boys. She could beat most of the men and take cokes off junior players like Wickie Ditzler, the Rickesen twins and later Jim McManus.

            Clif Mayne showed up at the BTC after the War as a hot shot junior from Berkeley high.  As John Ricksen said at the service, “None of us liked him at first--until he began beating all of us.   Then we had to like him.”

            The guy could hit.  He and Wickie played at Wimbledon and brought the NCAA doubles’ championship home to Cal in ’52 and were runners up in ’53.

            What a scene the Berkeley Tennis Club was after the War and through the 50’s.   Tennis greats and former Cal players, Tom Brown, and Tate Coulthard mixed it up with tennis families, the Prices, Adams, Jordans, Fritchies, Petits, Ides, McMannus, Ditzlers, and my folks—all under the watchful eye of Don Budge’s (and Cal’s) former coach—tennis legend and club pro, Tom Stowe.

            There was no better amateur tennis in the country and the juniors led by Clif, Wickie and the Ricksen twins were off the charts.

            Those parents raised amazing kids back then.  They all played with dignity, honored the sport, and never disgraced their club, Cal, or families.  They were consummate gentlemen.  It was a different era.
           
            They would all go on to Cal and play under Dick Stevens (who had discovered Maggie on the Sacramento streets back in the 30’s) winning conference  titles, NCAA titles and age bracket titles up the wazoo.

            Later they were  play, yearly, in the Pacific Coast Championships—the tourney the great Aussies (Stolle, Emerson, Laver, Fraser, Rosewall et al) hated to play in more than any other.

            Those Aussies ruled the waves in the 50’s and early 60’s.   But, (I know this because they told me this personally over beers in the 70’s during another life in New York City when Stolle was coaching the New York Sets in Team Tennis), they loathed playing the PCC’s.  Who wanted to be drop shotted by a stock broker, or passed down the line by a direct marketer?  Had Clif and Wickie been lawyers like Rupe and John, most of the Aussies would have preferred to settle out of court.  Shiggaboom!

            There wasn’t an easy seed in the draw.  Locals like Whtney Reed, Jim McManus, Tom Brown and my mom occasionally ran off with titles.

            And these amateurs played only on weekends.  The Australian and American Pros actually feared being knocked off by them.  Constant three setters against weekend players used to scare the hell out of them.

            Wickie told the story of how he and Cliffwere back east on tour getting ready to go up against Arthur Ashe (former number one in the world) and his partner Charlie Paseral (another former #1 player)in the semi-finals of some tourney.

            Wickie pulled out his clean, pressed tennis shorts.  Cliff said to put them away—to save the clean pair for the finals.  Now that’s chutzpah!

            Well, they didn’t make the finals that Saturday, but Cliff’s attitude never varied.  He was the consummate competitor.

            He was always positive—though he could be dour on the court. 

            When Clif Jr. got older, Big Clif took him on the father son tour where the likes of Stan Smith and son, Roy Emerson, and son, and Torbin Ulrich and son were dominating the scene. 

            The Maynes gave no quarter—comported themselves with dignity and made many fast friends over the years.

            There were many tie breakers and 3 setters back then, but only one love match—Betty!

            (On a local angle, when Tom Stow was hired to be the pro at Meadowood, Ditzler and Mayne and the Ricksen twins played an exhibition match to open the Club.  Not sure there’s ever been any better tennis since).
           
            I doubt Clif ever recovered from the loss of his lovely daughter, Sally, (another great Cal athlete BTW), but he bore up under the strain and devoted what little free time he had to supporting the Big C Society and the Grid Club and raising his other three kids.  There would be no Grid Club as we know it without him.  There would be no Big C Society as we know it without him.  In fact, it is unlikely there would be Cal Tennis as we know it without him.

            He was the definition of Loyal Golden Bear and was devastated when Cal attempted to cut baseball and Rugby.

            At Sally’s funeral Clif threw his arms around me and held on.  It had nothing to do with me.  I always thought at that moment, he saw in me, my Mom--and flashed back to those halcyon days of youth and innocence when the group of them competed from sun up to sun down—interrupted by a few games of ping pong—back to the days when everything was possible, when the sun always shone, and the white hats defeated the black hats—and most important--you called your own lines.  Your character depended upon it.

            The “real world” had not been allowed to intrude.

            The Berkeley Tennis Club was a magical wonderland in the 50’s.  It was not “real life.”  If not Oz, it was Ozzie and Harriet and Clif was the star of the show.  On Center court, he was the center attraction.  A shiny example of how to live a life of integrity and zest--he will be missed—immensely.

           

           
           
             

           


           


5 comments:

Gerry Brown said...

FANTASTIC AND MOVING REMBERANCE - THANKS FOR SHARING - IT BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES - BUT UNFORTUNATELY I DID NOT HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO KNOW OR EXPERIENCE ANY OF THE PLAYERS OR THOSE HALYCON DAYS.

HOWEVER, IT STILL MADE ME REALIZE HOW MUCH PEOPLE AND SPORTS HAVE CHANGED - WITH SO MUCH EMPHASIS TODAY ON THE MONEY - RATHER THAN THE SPORTS AND THE THRILL OF COMPETITION. THANKS FOR SHARING

Loretta said...

You write so beautifully. I almost feel that I was there watching your mom and the Ricksons.

JC Smith said...

Jeff,
when will you finish your book, "Musings of a Napa Valley Cowboy"?

This is another endearing chapter.
Jim the jet

Jd Burress said...

Jeff: really nice comments about Cliff. I only knew him from a distance, but enjoyed his dry whit and loyalty to Cal. Go Bears, Jim Burress

Unknown said...

Great read Jeff. Thanks for bringing back the memories.
Jack Fritschi