Back in the day, Jeff Greenwald was quite a tennis player.
In 1984 — playing #1 for Staples High School — he won a rare triple crown: the FCIAC and state LL (largest schools) singles championships, and the team’s 3rd consecutive state title.
As life moved on, Greenwald continued to compete. Seventeen years later, in 2001 — now a clinical and sports psychologist in northern California — he won the US 35-and-over national singles and doubles championships. He was ranked #1 in the world International Tennis Federation men’s 35 category, for both singles and doubles.
He played #1 singles for the US in the Italia Cup. The team made it to the finals, grieving at night over the 9/11 attack, and pounding balls by day.
Another 16 years went by. Last month, Greenwald – now 51 — entered the national 40s hard court tournament. Most of the 64 competitors were just 40, or a year or two older.
He’d won that tournament for the first time in 2009 — and again in 2016. No one had ever been champion of a division a decade younger.
Seeded #3 this year, he reached the finals. His opponent — ranked #1 — was a 3-time 40s winner.
Greenwald flew his son Will — 9 years old, and an avid tennis player himself — to La Jolla for the finals. The stands were filled.
Greenwald lost the first set, 6-3. He won the second, 7-5.
Suddenly — at match point in the final set — the umpire called a “ball abuse” penalty on his opponent.
The radio announcer had never heard of that situation before. Neither he nor Greenwald saw his opponent’s infraction. But he’d smashed a ball out of the court, onto another court in play, in frustration over losing the prior point.
Just as suddenly, Greenwald told the umpire he did not want to win that way.
He declined to accept the penalty.
Greenwald went to the line again. He unleashed an aggressive shot to his foe’s backhand. It was not returned.
For the 2nd time in minutes, Greenwald won the national championship.
“We battled for over 2 hours,” the victor told a reporter. “There was no way I wanted to win that way. It wasn’t even a choice for me.”
He called it “the most satisfying tournament of my career.”
And then he waved his son over, to join him for the trophy celebration.
(Jeff Greenwald is the author of The Best Tennis of Your Life, and several instructional videos. He conducts corporate seminars on stress management, gives motivational speeches, and helps promising young athletes enhance their mental skills. His website is www.mentaledge.net)