Here I am on the far left, in the hat, alongside Brad Stoffel and Jeff Turpin as we pose for a newspaper photo in July of 1974.
The occasion was the National Boys’ 12 and Boys’ 14 and under Hardcourt Championships, played at our home tennis center in Dallas, the T Bar M Racket Club.
The paper took our photos because all of us were seeded in the run-up to the event. It seems like I was the seventh seed in the 12-and-unders while Brad was fourth. Jeff Turpin — older, wiser, better — was likely seeded fifth in the 14-and-unders.
I think Brad has such a big smile because he had beaten me three straight times already that year (fourth to come!), each time ensuring that he was #1 in Texas for our age group and I was a despondent #2. In desperation, I switched rackets in the middle of the summer, discarding the trusty Head Master for the Spalding Pancho Gonzalez wooden racket I’m holding in the photo. The racket didn’t help me beat Brad. Neither did the hat.
His winning streak lasted about four more years and eleven more matches (reaching 15 total) when I finally turned the tables at the Houston Open in 1978 and beat him when we were 16. By that time I had ditched the hat and begun using a Wilson Jack Kramer racket. Coincidence? Well, probably.
The deeper truth is that no one beats me 16 times in a row.