KATONAH, N.Y. – Katonah author Judith Aydelott has decided to share her love of tennis with others by telling the personal stories of famous and fascinating unknown senior players in her book, “Sport of a Lifetime: Enduring Personal Stories From Tennis.”
“About four years ago, I had to stop playing because I had health issues,” Aydelott said. “I decided that if I couldn’t play tennis, I would write about it instead.” She then took the next two years interviewing about 60 people to find the right profiles for her book.
The result, at 380 pages, was published by the New Chapter Press and tells about the experiences of senior tennis players such as Gardnar Mulloy, Betty Eisenstein and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. It also features profiles of players from the Hudson Valley, such as the Saw Mill Club Boys, a group of players over the age of 50 which regularly plays at the Saw Mill Club courts. Aydelott also interviewed several centennials who still play tennis.
“One person I spoke to was 102 years old and he was still as sharp as a tack and had a great sense of humor,” Aydelott said. “Another gentleman I spoke to referred to tennis as the fountain of youth—because it requires good eye and hand coordination, keeps you in shape and keeps you socially engaged.”
Each chapter profiles an individual player, a doubles team or, in one chapter, a whole group. Aydelott decided that style would make the book easier for people to read.
“What I love about it is it’s a ‘feel good’ book,” Aydelott said of her work. “You can put up any chapter and start reading. You don’t necessarily need to remember names or characters.”
One of Aydelott’s favorite stories is that of Fred Kovaleski, for whom the television show “I Spy” was modeled. Kovaleski was the child of Polish immigrants who grew up in Michigan. He learned how to play tennis after he won a handball tournament when he was in third grade. He excelled at it and even played at William and Mary College for a semester before becoming a paratrooper and serving in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war, Kovaleski became a CIA spy and used tennis as part of his cover.
“He really has this incredible story, the stuff the movies are made from,” said Aydelott, who had known Kovaleski for years through the International Lawn Tennis Clubs, or ICs, as they are known around the world.
In another chapter, she tells the story of how Gardnar Mulloy met Princess Elizabeth in 1951 and invited her to Wimbledon. Then, in 1956, Mulloy won the doubles match at Wimbledon and was handed the trophy by the now Queen Elizabeth, who had remembered their conversation from years earlier. Mulloy is another friend of Aydelott’s from the ICs.
The International Lawn Tennis Clubs is a prestigious organization that invites good players to tournaments all over the world. The mission of the club is to promote goodwill and sportsmanship among tennis players. Aydelott and her husband, Gordon, have been members for more than 25 years and have played tennis in Australia, Argentina, Britain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, France, Monte Carlo, New Zealand and Russia as well as throughout the United States.
Aydelott grew up on the Hill-Agor Farm in Mahopac. Her parents ran the farm as a dude ranch and played host to as many as 35 guests at a time.
“It was very popular during World War II,” Aydelott said. “All the soldiers would come during their R&R and the Rockettes would come, too. I loved it. It was a beautiful place.”
Then, when she was around 12 years old, her parents turned the ranch back into a farm and her father turned his efforts toward creating Lake MacGregor in Mahopac and developing the properties around it.
Aydelott did not get involved in tennis until she met her husband in 1962.
“We met on a blind date,” she said. “My friends wanted me to meet him, but I was into football guys and Gordon is a tennis player. I thought tennis players were wimps. But my friends finally convinced me to go up to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for the weekend to meet him.”
Aydelott said that after meeting him, she knew that he was the one.
“We ate. We drank. Then we sat down and started to talk to one another about our lives and that did it,” she said.
The two were engaged the following year, when Gordon was in Navy. They corresponded through letters.
“We found some of the letters just before our 50th wedding anniversary,” Aydelott said. “They were just adorable.”
The two will be married for 55 years in September.
Gordon Aydelott is the organizer of the Atlantic Coast Cup, a series of tennis tournaments played from Maine to Virginia. He hails from Connecticut and went to boarding school in Pennsylvania, where, at the age of 15, he met his tennis partner, James Biggs. The duo went to Dartmouth College together and have been playing doubles together for 63 years.
In addition to playing with Biggs, Gordon Aydelott played doubles with his wife. They started to play in husband and wife tournaments and ranked No. 5 in the country on the senior tournament circuit.
Judith Aydelott included a chapter about Gordon in her book because her publisher thought people would want to know about the author’s story.
“Sport of a Lifetime: Enduring Personal Stories From Tennis” is Aydelott’s first published book, but it is not the first she has written. As a malpractice lawyer in White Plains, she represented a woman who sued the National Institutes of Health and won. Aydelott wrote a manuscript about the trial.
“We were about to publish it and then September 11 happened and it was not the right time—so I put it on the back burner,” she said. Based on the success of “Sport of a Lifetime,” Aydelott is considering publishing the manuscript.
Meanwhile, her book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other book retailers.