Lorne Main is a popular ringer for less talented players. “Sometimes you meet these wealthy guys that want to play doubles and they say — ‘I’ll pay all the bills.’ And I say: Let’s go.” (Image: Paul Darrow for National Post)
By: Joe O’Connor, National Post
*** Joe O’Connor is a columnist for the National Post. He can be followed on Twitter at @oconnorwrites. This article was originally published on August 29th on NationalPost.com, and can be accessed here.***
He doesn’t have a telephone or a cellphone, he doesn’t “do email” and doesn’t have a fixed address. But he owns a car, a green 1998 Chrysler convertible with 324,000 km on the odometer and a trunk loaded with its owner’s worldly possessions, which largely consist of several pairs of tennis sneakers and a bag full of racquets.
The convertible was spotted in Montreal last weekend. Its owner, an 82-year-old former newspaper ad man who, years before he was an ad man was the best young tennis player in the country, was competing in the Canadian Senior Championships in the over-80 category.
“I won it in the final, 6-0, 6-0,” Lorne Main says, all matter of fact, as though winning for him is something that happens all the time, which, in fact, it is. “I don’t know how many Canadian titles I’ve won. It sounds cocky to say something like that, but…”
But Lorne Main is the Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray — and Rafael Nadal — of men’s senior tennis. An unbeatable octogenarian, who was unbeatable as a septuagenarian and has been unbeatable among his greying contemporaries, both in Canada and abroad, ever since joining the old boys tennis circuit in 1986.
He has captured 39 world championships to go with the “too many” Canadian titles to count and was recognized by the International Tennis Federation in June, at a tennis-star-studded black tie dinner during the French Open, as the greatest seniors player ever.
And he is not done winning yet.
This week the green convertible is parked at the Waegwoltic Club in Halifax. Mr. Main is showcasing the mercenary aspect of his immeasurable talents at the Nova Scotia Open by partnering with a lesser player in the doubles competition in exchange for a roof over his head.
“Lorne is the ultimate ringer, oh boy, is he ever,” says a gleeful Gerald Regan, a.k.a. Gerry Regan, the former Nova Scotia premier, Trudeau-era federal minister and late-blooming tennis duffer who befriended the tennis ace almost 40 years ago and has been enlisting his services to elevate his game ever since.
“I have one ability in tennis and that’s the ability to pick a good partner. Lorne does most of the running — and most of the hitting. He has carried me to two Canadian seniors doubles championships. He is a good friend.”
The tennis nomad has good friends all over the place: Los Angeles, Wyoming, Vancouver, Montreal, Australia — Halifax — and points in between. He will be in Ontario cottage country next week, helping a tennis buddy in need, and then it’s off to Croatia to play with Ken Sinclair, a fellow Canadian, and his longtime partner at the world championships.
“When I’m in Nova Scotia I’m Gerry’s ringer,” Mr. Main says. “Another friend took me to Europe one year. Sometimes you meet these wealthy guys that want to play doubles and they say — ‘I’ll pay all the bills.’ And I say: Let’s go.”
His pals refer to him as “Peter Pan,” a big kid, who doesn’t want a lot of responsibility and never wants to grow up. Or old. The fact that he made it to 82 is a wonder. Mr. Main met and married a girl named Ivy in 1951 and won the Monte Carlo Open in 1954.
It was a prestigious event. But there was no prize money in tennis and prestige didn’t pay the bills. So Mr. Main became an advertising executive with the Toronto Telegram, a job that involved boozy lunches followed by boozy nights at the tennis club.
“My wife and I were both alcoholics,” he says. “Ivy died from it in July 1974. I kept drinking until John Robertson, a great writer with the Telegram, got a hold of me and got me into Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I haven’t had a drink since October 1974. Ivy didn’t get a second chance, but I did.”
Maybe he just needed to meet the right girl. Adrienne Avis is an Australian tennis vagabond, a women’s seniors champion — 20 years Mr. Main’s junior. They met on a court in Austria two years ago.
“She loves to travel,” Mr. Main says. “She knows all the state capitals and all the NHL team names. How many Australians can say that? I still have the odd Mars bar, but Adrienne has got me on a better diet. I eat salad now.”
Lorne Main laughs an impish, Peter Pan laugh, the yuks of a man who has life figured out, a man with no fixed address, a valid passport, an Australian girlfriend, a convertible, a trunk full of tennis racquets and doubles partners — scattered about — who are always happy when the “ringer” shows up at their door.