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By Randy Walker



Saratoga Springs, N.Y. is known as the Mecca for horse racing but it was also the site of an interesting moment in the history of tennis.

With a Facebook post – as well as a fortunate discovery during a haphazard morning drive – I was able to discover the locale of a unique piece of American tennis trivia. While on my annual summer trip to the Saratoga National Race Course to take in some of the famed horse racing meet, I posted some photos from the trip on my Facebook page. Nancy Richey, former French and Australian women’s singles champion and winner of 73 career singles titles, is one of my Facebook friends. She and her younger brother Cliff are the most successful American brother-sister combination in tennis history and I published Cliff’s book called “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” in 2010 (order or download it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257669/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_wCtVvb0NVR08D)

In the context of my Facebook post stating how much I love Saratoga, Nancy commented, “Cliff loves it too…had his first big win there — me!”

Cliff won 45 titles in his career, ranked No. 1 in the United States in 1970, helped the United States to two Davis Cup titles and beat all the top players of his era – Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Ilie Nastase and others. In 1970 in the semifinals of the event at the Berkeley Tennis Club in Berkeley, Calif., Cliff beat Smith in a fifth-set tie-breaker in a sudden-death point – in the old nine-point tiebreakers the 4-4 point was a sudden-death with the winner of the next point winning the tie-breaker 5-4. The match determined the No. 1 ranking for the year, which Cliff won in dramatic fashion. However, Cliff beating his hot-shot, future Hall of Famer sister for the first time is, without question, one of his most memorable wins, if not the most important win.

Cliff was 13 years old at the time, while Nancy was 18 and training to play at Forest Hills at the U.S. Championships (the modern day U.S. Open). Their father, George, was the head pro at the Schuyler Meadows Country Club in nearby Albany, N.Y. for the summer of 1960, so the whole family was along for a summer tennis adventure in upstate New York. Needing to gain some practice time on grass courts to gear up for the grass at Forest Hills, Nancy found her way with her brother to one of the few grass courts in the area in nearby Saratoga.

Cliff and Nancy Richey

Cliff and Nancy Richey

While the pressures of playing on the top levels of tennis are indeed high but, as many players can appreciate, the anxiety of playing against competitive family members and friends can sometimes bear a greater burden than many opponents at other events. This is pressure that is best exemplified when Serena and Venus Williams competed against each other. Wayne Bryan, the father of identical twin doubles legends Bob and Mike Bryan, alternated the brothers defaulting to each other in junior tournaments to keep family harmony in check. Cliff, known as one of the hardest competitors in his era of men’s tennis, no doubt learned his grittiness from his determined efforts to beat his older sister and Nancy benefited from constantly fighting off the challenge of baby brother, sharpening her skills when the best of women’s tennis were looking to take her down a notch. Cliff admitted as much as making some questionable line calls in his matches with Nancy, one such time resulting in his father taking him inside the tennis pro shop and spanking him for attempting to cheat on line calls.

“Where was that infamous match,” I asked Nancy on the Facebook comment line on my page of the exact location in Saratoga of their match. “Maybe we will stop by there tomorrow and see if there is a plaque,” I joked.

“I’m trying to block it out of my memory,” Nancy joked in response. “All I remember is a club that had grass courts and he got me”

The following morning, prior to heading to the track and while touring around the downtown area of Saratoga Springs, we drove by a golf course in town and noticed a stretch of grass tennis courts. Perhaps this is where this famous battle between Nancy and Cliff took place? I pulled over and peered through the fence at the courts. The ladies group on the courts noticed me being a Peeping Tom and I asked them through the fence if they knew the Richey family. They did not, but not threatened by my inviting voice and personality, they asked me onto the courts to talk to them further. Walking onto the courts, I noticed the sign on the gate identifying the club as the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club.

I explained the story in detail to the interested audience of tennis enthusiasts and told them that the grass courts they were playing on could be where this hallmark match between tennis siblings took place. I pulled out my Iphone and proceeded to take photos and videos of the courts in the hope that Nancy or Cliff would be able to recognize the environment from 55 years earlier, although there were condos in the middle of construction just across the street that could spoil their recollections.

I soon texted the photo to Cliff asking him “Have you played any big matches on these courts?”

“Yep,” he quickly responded as I knew he would. “The venue of my biggest win! Bigger than Berkeley Tennis Club! HA!”

To view a video of the grass courts at the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Veksikj684k

To learn more about the charm and beauty of horse racing at Saratoga – the equine Disneyland – view this YouTube conversation featuring Randy Walker here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEVWIwxHAY0

To read an excerpt from Cliff’s “Acing Depression” book, click here: http://www.worldtennismagazine.com/archives/6769

Randy Walker at the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club

Randy Walker at the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club

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About Admin
Randy Walker is a communications and marketing specialist, writer, tennis historian and the managing partner of New Chapter Media – www.NewChapterMedia.com. He was a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Tennis Association’s marketing and communications division where he worked as the press officer for 22 U.S. Davis Cup ties, three Olympic tennis teams and was an integral part of USTA media services team for 14 US Opens. He is the author of the books ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY and THE DAYS OF ROGER FEDERER

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