During his last years on the men's professional tennis circuit, Harold Solomon would walk through the players' lounge during tournaments and not recognize "a single face." He and Jimmy Connors would laugh with each other about being the only ones "who are our age." If that wasn't depressing enough, many players who were beating him were nearly young enough to be his sons.
Solomon, a Washington native once ranked No. 5 in the world, was ready for a change. "For me," he said last week, "it was time to not play all the time."
When Solomon competes nowadays, he picks on guys his own age. In the tennis world, Solomon and his peers are called "Grand Champions," players 35 and older (and those who turn 35 later this year, like Solomon) who have won a Grand Slam title, played on a Davis Cup team, been ranked No. 1 in his country, or earned $1 million in career prize money.
Eight of them -- Stan Smith, Dick Stockton, Tim Gullikson, Bob Lutz, Ross Case, Jaime Fillol, Sherwood Stewart and Solomon -- will play in the Grand Champions circuit stop at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium, today through Monday. Play begins at 6 p.m. today, 10:30 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday. The finals are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. The players will compete in singles and doubles in a round-robin format, with $40,000 available in prize money.
Solomon lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he runs the family's car rental business and plays an occasional game of tennis. "I played probably 10 days the last six months," he said. "As I started to get ready for this tournament, I began playing every day, or at least trying to. It's hard to find the time."
It wasn't always that way. Solomon won $1.8 million in his 13-year career; he was a finalist at the French Open in 1976 and a semifinalist at the U.S. Open the following year. He also played on two victorious U.S. Davis Cup teams. At 5 feet 5 1/2, Solomon was known for his "more methodical, counter-punching" base-line game, to use his words.
"If I have any regrets, they would be that my style of play was not as appreciated in this country as it was in others," he said. "I had to adapt to my size . . . I guess it's not as exciting to see eight million balls being hit back and forth, but I wonder, is it any more exciting to see Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl each hitting 40 aces?"
Perhaps the answer will come next week in the Sovran Bank/D.C. National Tennis Classic. Both Becker and Lendl will play in that one.