Frank Ackley of Springs continued to climb the ladder in his United States Tennis Association age group by reaching the semifinal round of the U.S.T.A.’s national Level 1 grass court championships at the Philadelphia Cricket Club recently.
For finishing third, he was given a bronze ball nestled within a nice wooden and glass display box. “Everyone’s chasing the gold ball,” he said during a conversation at The Star last week. “Win one of these national tournaments — there are four of them — and you get a gold ball, the runner-up gets a silver one, and the bronze one goes to the third-place guy.”
As a result of his showing in Philadelphia, his ranking jumped from 47th to 14th in the national men’s 70s singles. His goal, he said, is to do well enough at the national clay courts in Pinehurst, N.C., next month to get into the top 10. To do that, he’ll have to get to the round of 16 at least.
Ackley said he prepared for the Philadelphia tournament by training with Bob Kouffman on the grass courts at Doug De Groot’s Buckskill Tennis Club here. “Grass courts are so different — being able to play on Buckskill’s, thanks to Doug De Groot, really helped me.”
Seeded fifth in the 64 draw — “the Level 1 nationals are always full” — on the way to the semifinals Ackley “beat two guys who were in the top 20 nationally, and then lost 6-4, 6-4 to Steve Radigan, a really good player.”
There was not much difference between them, he said in reply to a question. “The courts were dry initially, a little bit firmer, so you got a bounce you could swing at. But then it rained twice and they got softer. When we played you didn’t know what would happen. On clay you get a predictable bounce. On grass it’s different, especially when the courts are soft. You don’t get true bounces. He’s a tall serve-and-volley guy, and that proved to be an advantage for him. Well, that’s grass. I don’t like it, but I understand it.”
Ackley, who’s on a mission, said he’s playing more tournaments now than he has in a long time. Having turned 70 this past February prompted him to go all out this year.
“I’ve played more this year than in the past 30. I used to play one tournament a year, maybe two. By the end of this year I will have played in eight. Some will be just doubles, but still.”
He had played in three tournaments since this writer and he had last talked, in early July. “At the end of the year, your top four finishes determine your ranking — you throw out the others.”
As a warm-up for Philadelphia, “I played singles for the Eastern team in the Atlantic Cup in Bethesda, Maryland — a four-team, 65-and-over event. There were teams from New England, the Middle States, and the South too. My first match was with a guy from New England. It was 98 degrees and the match took 3 hours and 15 minutes. Unhealthy, so unhealthy. I won 10-7 in a super-tiebreaker in the third set. The next day, I and a guy from New York City won our doubles match against a Middle States team. The air temperature was 100 degrees that day. Winning those two matches was good practice for Philadelphia.”
He was, he said in answer to a question, in good shape. While he played a decent game of golf, “I think people are suited, physically and mentally, to certain sports, and, in my case, it’s tennis. I’m a fighter, a grinder. I’ll stay out there three hours if that’s what it takes to beat you. . . . More than any other sport, singles tennis is the closest thing to boxing that I know of — you have to fight the whole time. Three hours and 15 minutes in 98-degree heat . . . I was too stubborn to lose. I wasn’t going to lose. That’s it,” he said with a smile. “It’s my mantra. Too stubborn to lose.”