NOSTALGIA NIGHT: Ted and Jean Conrad looking back over their many years playing tennis in Rockhampton.
NOSTALGIA NIGHT: Ted and Jean Conrad looking back over their many years playing tennis in Rockhampton. Matty Holdsworth

Still on court after a lifetime of tennis

TENNIS: From hosting 2,000 people for a Rod Laver match, almost burning down centre court, to playing for suitcases not prize money, Mr and Mrs Rockhampton Tennis have witnessed just about everything in the region, be it on hardcourt, grass or antbed.

There for each forehand, set and drop of sweat have been Ted and Jean Conrad.

While the pair are now in the twilight of their years, the Rockhampton Tennis Association Life Members have had to take a seat off court, their minds are still as sharp as their serves once were.

The elderly couple sat down with The Morning Bulletin for a look back at the history of Rockhampton tennis just prior to the Nostalgia Night to be held at the Rod Laver Hall on Saturday 19th November.

"In the early days we were more involved. Tennis was very busy in those days. We had 60-70 teams here for fixtures,” Jean recalled.

"Our country week events, all the good players from around here would turn up. The competition was fierce.”

It was the time of wooden racquets, compulsory all-white attire and Dunlop Volleys.

Days when the then household names of Fred Stolle, John Newcombe, Ken Fletcher, Margaret Smith (Court) joined the Lavers boys, Bob, Trevor and little Rod.

"Rod won a suitcase here once,” Ted said. "Back when tennis was an amateur sport. It was a big warfare between the professional organisation and the amateurs.”

"Instead of prize money, they would turn it into a bet just so the winner could walk away with something.

Australian tennis legends Rod Laver and Margaret Court both graced Rockhampton way back when.
Australian tennis legends Rod Laver and Margaret Court both graced Rockhampton way back when. FIONA HAMILTON / TENNIS AUSTRALI

"When the Lavers first came here, Trevor and Bob were supposed to be the ones to watch. But this little bloke outside looking through the fence eventually ended up having a go. And that's how he got into the sport.

"We seated 2000 people at court three down there for Laver's match. About 40 of us blokes created all our own scaffolding so we could fit everyone in... luckily the inspector didn't know what he was doing.

"After we done all that, the ladies came in to mark all the seats, it was a big day and night job and after four hours of tennis we had to pull it all down. We made 590 pound from the match which was a lot in those days.”

Yet despite the thrill of the astonishing Rocket Rod, the best match came from the great Margaret Court, then Smith.

"Margaret played here in the final of the ladies singles which went for two and a half hours. No one was watching the men's final, they were all watching this terrific ladies match.

"She still holds the record for the most grand slams but all she got was a sash here,” he added.

The pair both have Certificates of Merit for their dedication to the sport, Ted recalled the most dangerous day on court.

"That was a special day in 1967. The courts were still wet from the rain and we had an Australian team play and American team. The courts were soaked,” he said.

"So we poured a bit of petrol to dry them up a bit. And I was sweeping the water off the court and didn't know there was petrol down. And the broom started up some sparks and then went 'whump' and the court was on fire. I copped abuse for years over that,” he laughed.

FILE - In this June 3, 1969, file photo, Rod Laver of Australia, returns the ball as he defeats Andres Gimeno of Spain, during the quarter-finals of the men's singles of the French Open tennis championship at Roland-Garros stadium in Paris. No man since Rod Laver in 1969, and no woman since Steffi Graf in 1988, has completed a true Grand Slam. (AP Photo/Bodini, File)
FILE - In this June 3, 1969, file photo, Rod Laver of Australia, returns the ball as he defeats Andres Gimeno of Spain, during the quarter-finals of the men's singles of the French Open tennis championship at Roland-Garros stadium in Paris. No man since Rod Laver in 1969, and no woman since Steffi Graf in 1988, has completed a true Grand Slam. (AP Photo/Bodini, File) BODINI

But for all their stories and great players, it is their sheer love of the game which has them appreciated by all.

"It is just our love of tennis I think. It is something we hope to pass on,” Jean said.

"I love watching the juniors and getting to watch them grow through the years. Some of the kids who we helped would come back to see us in their 20s, it always made it worthwhile.

"That is the greatest part of it all. You don't always play to win.”

The Nostalgia Night is being held by the Cressy Tennis Club as part of their 70th anniversary celebrations.

The ticketed event is open to anyone interested in contributing and/or hearing the stories of Rockhampton's love with tennis. Contact Cressy Club Secretary, Warren Acutt on 0408 063 654 for details.



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