Twenty years ago, Gene Russo was the third-ranked junior tennis player in Australia, playing in his first open tournament and facing one of the world's best players, Roy Emerson. He was scared and excited.
He lost badly. It wasn't even close.
Tonight at 7, Russo, the tennis director at Fairfax Racquet Club, will get another shot at Emerson. It will come in the first round of the three-day E.F. Hutton Masters Challenge of Washington at George Washington University's Smith Center.
The semifinals will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday and the final at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Emerson will be joined by three other stars of his generation, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Fred Stolle. Russo and Graham Stillwell complete the six-man draw. Stillwell was a British Davis Cup player and now is the tennis director at Skyline Health and Racquet Club.
"It's almost 20 years to the day since I played Emerson," Russo said. "I got killed. He was such a nice guy that, there on center court (of Melbourne's Kooyong Stadium) -- in front of everyone -- he was telling me to relax, not to be nervous. He ended up giving me a lesson while we were playing. It was just fun being out there because Emerson was my idol as a kid."
Laver and Rosewall are the top seeds and drew opening-round byes. After tonight's Russo-Emerson match, local juniors Eleni Rossides and Stacey Martin will team with Rosewall and Laver for an exhibition mixed doubles match. Then, Stolle will play Stillwell.
Some things to watch: Rosewall's backhand was considered the greatest pure ground stroke in the history of the game. It's still effective. He won here last year. Laver, the only two-time Grand Slam winner, has wonderful topspin shots off both sides. At one time, his quickness was a primary strength, though at age 46, guile probably is more his style.
Russo, once a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, played Emerson a few more times after that first day; he played Stolle, too. He never beat either one. Is he thinking revenge? No. Anticipation, yes.
"I'm excited," he said. "They were unbelievable players then and they are now, too."