Surely few men have awaited their 35th year so eagerly as Dick Stockton.
Instead of bemoaning his lost youth or worrying about his waist and hair lines when he turned 34 Feb. 18, Stockton rejoiced. Finally, he was old enough for the Grand Champions tour.
"I've been staying in shape for two years just for this," Stockton said last night after his first match on the tour, a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Eddie Dibbs before 600 in the first round of play of the $40,000 Prudential-Bache Securities Grand Champions tournament at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium.
To play on the Grand Champions circuit, a competitor must be in his 35th year and either have won a Grand Slam event, played Davis Cup or earned the No. 1 ranking in his country.
Stockton played Davis Cup; he lacked only age. And he wanted to play. "The competitive fire -- if you want to call it that -- never disappears," he said. "That's why we're out here still playing. Heck, it's a lot of fun playing guys our age instead of these 17-year-olds who are too quick. We're too slow, too ugly, too fat. For us, this is like a new lease on life."
Stockton, who had not played a serious singles match since the U.S. Open last August, had trouble with his serve early. Dibbs broke his service three times in a row in the first set while taking a 5-2 lead. But Stockton came back to tie it at 5 before Dibbs -- also a newly eligible 34-year-old -- took the first set, 7-5.
"I was really feeling pretty tired," Stockton said. "My main concern was not to get blown out. You can practice five or six months and then get out in a match and play like an idiot."
Stockton came back to win the second set, 6-4.
In the third set, Stockton settled in while Dibbs became unsettled. Stockton went ahead, 5-1, then took Dibbs to deuce in the seventh game and won the advantage with a passing shot. Dibbs netted a return on the next point. Game, set, and first Grand Champions match victory to Stockton.
Although the two have been playing each other for more than 20 years, Stockton said it was the first time since they were youngsters that he has beaten Dibbs on clay.
"I'm really a believer in this tournament," Stockton said. "I think someday it will be like the seniors golf tournament."
In the first match of the round-robin event, Marty Riessen defeated Ray Moore, 6-2, 6-2.
This was the first time Riessen and Moore had met this year, although because the core group of players on the tour is small, players tend to meet frequently.
"We're all really good friends," Riessen said. "We've been traveling around together all these years and a lot of us live out in California. But I don't think competition ever changes. The better friends you are, the more you want to play."
In a side-court match, Cliff Richey defeated Charlie Pasarell, 6-0, 6-0.
Tom Gorman took the third match on the stadium court by defeating Sherwood Stewart, 6-2, 6-2. Stewart, who teamed with Riessen to take second place in the men's over-35 doubles at Wimbledon, was slowed by an injured knee.
Jaime Fillol and Colin Dibley defeated Pasarell and Dibbs, 6-2, 6-2, in the final match of the night.
In today's matches, Andrew Pattison will meet Stewart at 5 p.m., followed by Bob Lutz vs. Moore, Fillol vs. Dibbs and Gorman-Stockton vs. Pattison-Richey. Dibley will faces Pasarell at 7 p.m. on a side court.