It’s a Lot Easier When You’re Seeded, Ackley Says

Springs 70-year-old tests U.S.T.A.’s top-ranked player
Frank Ackley will be heading to Hilton Head, S.C., soon for a regional team competition. Jack Graves

Frank Ackley, who is in his 70th year, recently tested the United States Tennis Association’s top-ranked player in that division by extending him to three sets in a round-of-16 match in Houston.

Ackley, a Springs resident who spends the winter in Melbourne, Fla., said last week that he hadn’t played competitive singles — or any singles to speak of — in the past three years, and was eager to see where he stood.

He stood well, it turned out, but the next day, he said, he was barely able to stand.

“They played this at the Downtown Club at the Met, on hard courts . . . 90 percent of the indoor courts in the U.S. are hard courts, you know, not Har-Tru, though, frankly, I prefer clay.”

Despite the fact that he had no points, usually a requisite when it comes to seeding, Ackley was seeded ninth in a draw of 65, presumably because his reputation had preceded him.

“So, in the round of 16, I lost to the number-one seed, Ken Dahl, from Montreal, Canada, who plays in the U.S. all the time. . . . I was up 6-5 in the first set . . . I can’t remember who was serving, but what I do remember is that I was up 30-15 and hit what I thought was a winner down the line, which he called out. I asked him if he saw it long. He said no, that it was wide. It wasn’t wide, but anyway. There was no umpire. So I wound up losing that game and lost something like 7-5 in the tiebreaker.”

Ackley won the second set 6-3, and was “up 4-2 in the third — by this time we had an umpire — when things got a little crazy. That umpire, by the way, overruled him at least three times on line calls. I was up 4-2, he’s serving, and he stops the game and says, ‘Frank, it’s 40-30, right?’ I didn’t know. ‘You’re serving,’ I said. ‘It’s your call.’ He wins the point. Later I learned that all the guys who were watching the match thought it had been 30-30.”

“At 4-3 my legs were seizing up, and he went on to win the third set 6-4. He played well. It was a three-hour match. I’ll be honest with you, I could barely walk the next day. What would have been a 15-minute walk took me 45. I had to lift my leg to get over the curbs. I was so glad I didn’t have to play.”

At least Ackley could say after the tournament that he’d taken a lot of the starch out of Dahl, who defaulted in the third set of the semifinals while leading 4-3.

At any rate, Ackley earned 200 points as a result of his showing, “though you need 2,000 to be in the top five.”

Before leaving Florida for East Hampton, Ackley teamed up with Mark Harrison, a top-notch pro who has taught at clubs here in the summer, to win a charity men’s doubles tournament at Melbourne’s Suntree Country Club.

“You get spoiled in Florida,” Ackley said, “whether it’s tennis or golf. It’s so easy. Not like here.” 

Asked where he was going next, Ackley said, “Hilton Head, South Carolina, for a regional senior team tournament, in two weeks. It’s just doubles. I’ve been asked to captain the Eastern team. We’re either playing Florida or New England. And then, in mid-June, there’s going to be a U.S.T.A. national Level 2 tournament at Yale. The tennis facility they have there is next to none. I’ll be playing singles there — I need to get more points.”

In late September, he said, he would play in the national clay courts, where he hopes he’ll be seeded. “It’s a lot easier,” Ackley said, in signing off, “when you’re seeded.”