Harold Solomon's explanation about why he had worn four shirts and 34 sweatbands, and had changed his shoes and socks, in a two-set tennis match Monday night lasting just more than an hour had little to do with heat.
"When you get old, you've got to try everything and anything," Solomon said. "At least maybe I can get my opponent distracted and wondering what in the world I'm doing."
What Solomon -- one of the biggest money winners in the open tennis era -- is doing is coming back, sort of, for a while. At 34, he is still a year too young to run for president but still conspicuous in a sport in which many of the up-and-comers were born frighteningly close to 1970.
Because Solomon is such a relative relic, because of his increased administrative involvement in the sport and because he has a wife and two young children, he has played fewer and fewer tournaments the last four years (only six in 1985) and dropped almost out of sight in the computer rankings. His 12th appearance in the Sovran Bank/D.C. National Tennis Classic, just a few miles from where he grew up in Silver Spring, could be his last.
"This could be my last summer on the tour," Solomon said Monday night, after disposing of Norm Schellenger in straight sets on the Rock Creek Stadium Court. "I've got a 4-year-old and a six-week-old who I've only seen six days, so far. . . . As soon as I decided to become president of the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1981, I knew there would be a shift in my priorities, and you know your tennis is going to suffer. It's frustrating sometimes . . . but I still like to play. I still like the competition."
And it was obvious from Monday night's match that Solomon still has the combative nature that helped a 5-foot-6, 130-pound baseliner stay ranked among the top 10 in the world for four out of five years in the late 1970s.
Solomon no longer can play one point for nearly four minutes, nor can he go five or six games without making an unforced error as he did in the days when clay court tournaments were a common sight in this country. But the ability to concentrate and outthink some of his younger opponents may move him up a few digits in the computer rankings before the summer is out. No better time to find out than tonight, when Solomon plays Thierry Tulasne, the tournament's second seed, in the evening's second Stadium Court match.
"The toughest thing for me is that back in the old days, I was totally committed to my tennis," Solomon said. "I used to be one of the hardest-practicing guys on the circuit. The tough thing is you know you're capable of playing well, but the results aren't the same. You wonder if it's because you're getting older, or the other players are getting better, or maybe a lot of things. But you're not sure.
" Guillermo Vilas who is one month older than Solomon, and making a strong comeback, is the No. 4 seed here is going to do really well because he is still dedicated to his tennis and he's not married," Solomon said.
Solomon traces his shift in priorities to 1978 when he took an est seminar, which led to his deep involvement in a world hunger project and "shifted my thinking on a lot of things," Solomon said. "Before that I was just playing tennis for the sake of the tennis. Then, I wanted to make a contribution to tennis, and when I did, the game became much more satisfying, immensely satisfying."
Last August, Solomon was voted as the player representative on the Men's International Professional Tennis Council. That made for even less practice time. Solomon played Wimbledon in June, but lost in the first round to 21-year-old Jonathan Canter.
But since then, he has been experimenting with new rackets and new grip sizes. "I'm hitting the ball pretty well but I'm not playing great," Solomon said.
The seeding says Solomon won't beat Tulasne, but he has beaten the Frenchman twice recently.
Solomon has fond memories of Washington's outdoor tournament. It was the first major tournament he won, in 1974. And this is the last year the tournament will be played on clay, the surface on which he has had few peers. In what could be his last summer on the tour, Solomon would like to keep changing shirts and sweatbands just a few more days.