The last time, in February, that Frank Ackley played in a United States Tennis Association national tournament, he couldn’t walk the day after losing a round-of-16 match in three sets to the 70s division’s top-ranked player, Ken Dahl of Montreal.
That Level I national tournament, contested at the Downtown Club at the Met in Houston, was played on hardcourts, as was a Level II one, in Guilford, Conn., in which he played a couple of weeks ago.
“It must be these hardcourts,” the Springs resident, who is taking some time off so that his back can heal, said during a telephone conversation the other day.
To begin with, Ackley, who has hopes to attain a top-five ranking in his age division by the end of the year, said he was happy to have a national tourney so close to home. “Usually,” he said, “they play them in California, Florida, Louisiana, Texas. . . .”
Happily, even though he has many more points to earn before high seedings come automatically, he was, he said, seeded number-one in the Guilford tourney. “Finally, they know,” he said with a laugh.
Played on hardcourts, the tournament was, he said, “the only one they play in New England all year. I drove there; the travel expenses were minimal. What you do at these tournaments is play, eat, watch TV, and get up in the morning ready to play again — bang, bang, bang, bang.”
After winning his first match 6-3, 6-0, he met Gary Chafetz, “a writer who used to work for The Boston Globe. He plays all the time and he’s always ranked. The matches were getting backed up, so they asked us if we wanted to play indoors. We said okay, but the indoor courts were twice as fast as the outdoor ones. I don’t know why that was. . . . I went down 0-3, and then won the next 11 in a row.”
In the semifinals, Ackley said, he met the third seed, John Crane of New York City, a player who’s ranked number-one in the East. “He made it to the semis in the national 70s last summer. He’s tall and likes to come in to the net, but I was ready for that. I kept him back, and when he did come in I passed him.”
Ackley’s opponent in the final “was Mas Kimball, a teaching pro from the Cape. He plays in all these tournaments. He had a higher ranking than me. At the start of the match I go up 3-0, and as we’re changing sides he walks off the court, leaving me there. He disappears . . . it must have been 5 to 10 minutes. I don’t know why he left — he didn’t say.”
“So, it gets to where I’m up 5-2 and serving for the set, and, suddenly — I was trying to kick the ball wide to his backhand to take him off the court — my back goes out. I could feel it. I played two more games, but it got so I couldn’t even pick the ball up, so I defaulted. It must be these hardcourts. I remember telling you that after the one in Houston I had to lift my leg to get over the curbs the next day.”
Happily, “nothing’s happening now anyway, so I have time. The next two tournaments are later in the year. There’s the national grasscourts in Philadelphia at the end of August and the claycourts, in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in October. That should be my best.”
Asked why, Ackley said, “I’m more suited to clay because I can still run, my ground strokes are good, and I can compete well . . . I can counter. It’s a tactical game. . . . On grass, with all the bad bounces, it’s whoever gets to the net first.”
He was better, he said in reply to a question, “but not 100 percent. . . . It’s a bulging disk in my lower back. The question is, is it worth the pain to keep playing? Right now, I think it is. We’ll see.”