13 Nov 2017

Rhone's tennis tales have the makings of a movie

News Article

By Harvey Fialkov

Photo: Camerawork USARollin Rhone (USA)

Rollin Rhone is an imposing figure on and off the tennis court.

A muscular, lean six-foot-four, 200-pounder with impeccable posture no doubt cultivated during his two-year stint as a U.S. Marine corporal in the early 1970s, Rhone teamed with Shannon Gordon-Carney on a surprising march through the 60s’ mixed doubles draw of last week’s ITF Seniors World Individual Championships.

But the unseeded duo, who had gotten past the second- and sixth-seeded tandems, ran into the top-seeded wall of Belgian Pierre Godfroid and Brazilian Patricia Medrado who prevailed 62 63 in Friday’s final on the clay at North Shore Tennis Center.

“I would go right now and sign up to serve my country,’’ said Rhone, 63, who’s ranked seventh in singles and doubles in the USTA 60s. “It was an honor and to take a World [silver medal] on Veteran’s Day is extra special.’’

Rhone, who is as tall as his tales, paints an interesting life that sounds more like a movie than reality. He has been teaching tennis mostly in the Los Angeles area for the past 40 years, and counts several television and movie stars, as well as superstar athletes from other sports among his clientele.

“I was 21 and decided I wanted to play tennis. By 25, I was in qualifying in the US Open. At 26, I was offered a tennis scholarship to UCLA,’’ said Rhone, a finalist in the USTA National Grass Courts 60s in Michigan last August and a consolation finalist at Worlds in 2012 in San Diego.

“I played an exhibition against Vijay Amritraj [winner of 16 ATP titles] and lost 76 76, but Berry Gordy, who ran Motown studios, asked me to dinner and told me I have what it takes and wanted to sponsor me. He had a rotating court in his backyard so you would never [have to serve] in the sun.’’

Later, legendary singer Kenny Rogers took a gamble on Rhone and also sponsored him for seven months on the fledgling WATCH [Challenger] tour in Florida.

“I met with Rogers in Las Vegas and soon [original TV’s Wonder Woman actress] Lynda Carter had me by the arm and we were circling the tables in the Riviera [hotel] casino,’’ Rhone recalls. “She was stunning.’’

He talks about playing an exhibition with the great Pancho Gonzalez and of meeting Arthur Ashe at a tournament in Santa Clara. Rhone said Ashe asked him to practice with him the next morning.

“Arthur worked on my serve a little and told me to stick with it, that I had what it takes,’’ Rhone said. “I asked Ashe, who was Mr. Head [tennis clothes and equipment] if he could get me a clothing or shoe contract. The next week I’m in Abilene, Texas, playing a USTA Satellite and there’s a stack of clothes from Arthur.’’

Rhone, who drops more names than drop shots, said he ran into Richard Williams, father/coach of Venus and Serena, in Los Angeles when they were about 18 and 17 respectively and helped teach them the proper service toss.

“Arthur taught me the serve, so I wanted to hand it down,’’ said Rhone, whose lone USTA gold ball came in the National Indoors mixed doubles in 2010 in Boise, Idaho. “The toss makes you the boss.’’

Rhone reached 662 in singles and the ATP website has him in only one career main draw of an ATP event, losing the first round in doubles in Washington, D.C. in 1980, although he adamantly believes he reached the main draw of a tournament in Indianapolis, too.

Eventually, Rhone went into private coaching.

“I was bagging groceries and saw this woman had a racket in her cart. Soon I was teaching the wife of Frank Wells, the [late] president of Warner Brothers and Disney,’’ he said.

“Alex Haley was writing ‘Roots’ in the backyard while we were playing,’’ he said. “I’ve taught Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Magic Johnson, Playboy bunnies at Hugh Hefner’s mansion, and the most amazing actress, Elizabeth Montgomery, “who was sweet as the day was long.’’

When Rhone was asked how Montgomery, the late star of the 60s’ television hit, ‘Bewitched,’ played, he smiled and said: “She used to play barefoot on her synthetic court. She [twitched] her nose and hit every shot.’’

Rhone is working on a book. It should be interesting.

“I’m getting better and better at 63 because I don’t allow negative influences at any time to affect me every single day of my life,’’ he said.